Cure for malaria could be in depths of the deep blue sea
Published: Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 18:07
The cure for malaria might be found in the depths of the ocean.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. People diagnosed with malaria often suffer from fever, chills and flu-like illnesses. If left untreated, they may develop severe complications and die.
In 2008, an estimated 190 million to 311 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide and 708,000-1,003,000 people died, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Debopam Chakrabarti, a molecular and microbiology professor and researcher at UCF, has been working toward a cure for malaria for about two decades and recently found promising results from studying numerous marine specimens.
Chakrabarti and his team earned a grant from the National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for $500,000.
"We've started looking at marine compounds with the rationale that marine biodiversity is significantly larger. The number of phyla in the ocean is much larger than that in terrestrial systems," Chakrabarti said.
Drugs are becoming increasingly ineffective because of malaria's growing resistance, which means there is no immediate hope for a vaccine, and while there have been some promising leads, they usually fail in field studies.
Chakrabarti has been working with the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, which has collected about 2,500 specimens.
The institute, a part of Florida Atlantic University, has used a submersible and scuba divers to collect samples from shallow waters, but Chakrabarti says there is more biodiversity at even larger depths.
Many of the specimens were harvested in the Gulf of Mexico and nearby areas such as the Dry Tortugas area that is about 80 miles west of Key West.
"There is possible concern about the recent oil spill because many of our samples are from the gulf. With the oil leak, which is essentially spanning 500 miles in each direction now, we don't know what effect it will have on marine life and our studies," Chakrabarti said.
While birds and other animals have the ability to flee the area, many of the species being studied in Chakrabarti's research are invertebrates such as sponges, anemones and coral.
These types of animals are immobile and are anchored to something on the ocean floor. Because of this, it's possible that mobile marine life will be affected most significantly by the oil spill.
Despite the impending damage to the nearby ecosystem, Chakrabarti will continue his research, particularly among the 300 promising samples, in the hopes of finding new therapeutics for malaria.
"This is something the world really, really needs," said junior Andrew Klein, who has visited Africa with his family for the past five summers and has helped set up medical centers and schools in needy communities.
"Most people just worry about the HIV and AIDS problem that's affecting Africa. What they don't realize is that malaria probably kills more people there than anything else," Klein said.
Klein just returned from Africa at the end of June and is not happy with its state of health.
"It's different over there. The life expectancy is so much lower and it doesn't take much searching to find someone dying of malaria or some other disease.
I just really hope there is a cure out there somewhere, even if it's at the bottom of the ocean and hopefully we haven't already killed it with oil," Klein said.