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Fruit fly model could explain how mosquitoes carry malaria: new drugs and vaccines on the horizon

e to grow and develop. The parasite enters the mosquito when the mosquito bites an infected person and drinks a "blood meal." Once inside, the parasite undergoes a two-week growth phase and then is transmitted to a new host when the mosquito takes a second blood meal.

By learning more about the factors that enable the parasite to grow inside the mosquito host, Schneider hopes that scientists will be able develop new ways to treat and prevent the spread of malaria.

"One advantage of using fruit flies instead of mosquitoes is that we can do large-scale genetic screens to find mutants," says Schneider. "We can knock out genes to determine whether the parasites grow better or worse when a particular gene is missing." By identifying factors that are critical to the parasite's survival inside the mosquito, these experiments may lead scientists to drugs that prevent the parasite from growing in the mosquito. Weak points in the parasite's lifecycle could be potential targets for anti-malarial drugs and vaccines.

Because parts of the human immune system are very similar to the immune systems of flies, this approach will also help scientists understand how we fight infection and will hopefully lead to new ways to treat malaria. One particularly vexing aspect of the Plasmodium parasite is that it becomes resistant to antibiotics very quickly.

"The first drugs used to treat malaria were inexpensive and had few side effects, but they are no longer effective because the parasite has become resistant," Schneider explains.

In fact, chloroquine resistance continues to increase in Africa, and with fears of toxicity and decreased efficacy for sulfadoxine/pyrimithamine, the World Health Organization has declared that there is an urgent need for an affordable, effective and safe alternative to chloroquine. "The alternative drugs available today are very expensive and not a viable option for the vast majority of people suffering from malaria, who happen to live i
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Contact: Stefanie Doebler
doebler@wi.mit.edu
617-258-9183
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
29-Jun-2000


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