Malarial Parasite as a drug delivery system : Niles’ lab works mainly on eliminating malaria as a disease, but he is taking a radically different approach to the parasite with his project to re-engineer the organism as a vehicle for drug delivery.
As Niles delved deeper into the biology of the parasite, he began to ponder another side of the organism. Around half a million people die each year from malaria — but some 200 million that are infected survive. Many experience no symptoms. These people are clinically immune, meaning they carry the parasite, but show no overt disease symptoms. This makes it hard to identify carriers of the disease, as the malaria parasite survives in the bloodstream at some level, but the carrier is unaware.
Niles’ proposal is, to his knowledge, the first aiming to re-engineer the malaria parasite into a medical tool and provide a novel way to deliver therapeutic drugs: The organism that now infects could one day cure.
Still some ways off : Incorporating a malaria-derived organism into a medical treatment comes with an interesting set of challenges as well. Researchers will need to ensure that the treatment comes with zero risk of causing malaria and zero potential to transmit disease, via the natural mosquito vector, for example.
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