First-World Malaria Research Does Little to Help Cambodia

German scientists have identified four proteins that appear to keep the malaria parasite alive in host mosquitoes, a discovery that could potentially lead to innovative new malaria treatments, Agence France-Presse reported last week.

But it could be a decade before any practical application of these findings reaches Cambodia or any of the other developing countries where the vast majority of the world’s 1 million annual deaths from malaria occur, health officials said.

Laboratories in industrialized countries are churning out research that unearths clues about how the disease and its carriers function on a microscopic level. But the studies coming out of scientific journals in the US, Europe and Japan have little immediate bearing on actual malaria treatment and the professionals working to contain the disease in the field.

“In Third World countries like Cambodia, where we are struggling to get the disease under control, we do not have resources for that basic research,” said Dr Seshu Babu, an adviser to the National Malaria Center.

Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Germany found that whether or not a particular mosquito carries malaria depends on which of two pairs of proteins the bug has. One pair seems to help the mosquito defend itself against the malaria parasite. The other appears to work on behalf of the parasite, allowing it to proliferate in the bug’s immune system, AFP reported.

New malaria drugs could be developed based on the concepts of boosting the pair of proteins that protects a mosquito from malaria, and killing those that allow the disease to proliferate, EMBL researcher George Christ­o­phides told AFP.

An exciting prospect, but it takes five to 10 years before scientific research can be translated into treatments that could be tested in the field, Babu said.

“You hope it will have an impact, but in terms of everyday work on malaria control” such studies have little affect, said Dr Philippe Guyant, malaria program manager at the NGO Partners for Development.

A good deal of research is being done in the country, health officials said, but work here runs more to practical, field-based surveys rather than lab research.

In 2003, the National Malaria Center conducted a survey in Preah Vihear, Pursat and Bat­tambang provinces, and Pailin municipality to determine the prevalence of fake antimalarial drugs being sold in shops there. The center also runs eight field research sites that analyze drug resistance and insecticide effectiveness, Babu said.

The drug-resistance studies are important, wrote Dr Tho Sochantha, deputy head of the center’s technical office, in an

e-mail Monday.

The studies offer immediately useful results, and “the Cambo­dian researcher can do it because it [does not] need much equipment and expensive material,” he said.

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