Mini-Science 2011 – From Jesuit’s bark to synchrotrons: the rise and fall of an antimalarial

Mini-Science logoAt the conclusion of each Mini-Science lecture, audience members submit their questions to the evening’s presenter, who answers as many as possible on the spot. Three of the unanswered questions are sent to the presenter for posting here. Here are questions from Dr. Scott Bohle’s lecture “From Jesuit’s bark to synchrotrons – the rise and fall of an antimalarial” (March 30, 2011).

Q: Can a person contract malaria even after taking anti-malarial medication?

A: Oh yes these drugs are not like a vaccine. Once they are through the system and excreted or metabolized they will not have any effect. If one is taking the drug and if the parasite is resistant to the drug then, yes, you can get malaria. If the parasite is not resistant to the drug and if it is given at the right dosage for the right length of time it will most likely be effective. However, if the dose is too low or not for the correct duration you can still contract the disease. This is how resistance originates.

Q: How does the resistance happen?

A: Resistance often takes the form of genetic modification of a target protein so a drug can no longer act. In the case of quinine and the synthetic antimalarials derived from it, there is no protein involved, and so resistance involves a different mechanism. In this case a new protein is expressed which binds in the membranes which recognizes and transports the drug out of the digestive vacuole so it cannot act. This type of transporter also acts in many human cancer cells as well.

Q: Is the ultimate goal to eradicate malaria?

A: If we can eradicate malaria in our life time it will be an achievement on par with lunar exploration. The challenge may be even more difficult however as it involves issues of economics, social welfare, and well being and not just the mere technical challenge of drug discovery.

Please visit the Mini-Science website for more information about the lecture series.

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