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The East African : January 20th 2014
The EastAfrican OUTLOOK JANUARY 18-24,2014 S CI E N C E Scientists innovate to tame malaria Kenyan ≥esea≥che≥s a≥e developing two tools in a bid to ≥educe mala≥ia outb≥eaks By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent K enyan scientists have come up with two innovations in efforts to fight malaria, a disease that kills up to 300,000 people each year in East Africa. Researchers from the Kenya Med- ical Research Institute (KEMRI) are developing a tool that uses saliva from patients to detect malaria and another that will see the use of “an oral contraceptive” for male mosquitoes in a bid to reduce incidents of malaria in endemic areas. According to the KEMRI re- searchers, malaria is a major cause of morbidity and mortality particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and accurate detection and diagnosis remain a major challenge. The on-going fight against ma- laria is complicated because of increased resistance of Plasmodium parasites to malaria treatment and control measures. In addition, several Plasmodi- um malaria species (P vivax and P knowlesi) cannot be detected with the usual quick-test methods. Therefore better coordination and new technologies, such as the use of vaccines and sophisticated disease mapping, can inject new life into the ambitious goal of eradicating the deadly illness. Eva Aluvaala the lead researcher developing the malaria test kit that will use patients’ saliva said that although the current malaria test is fast as it takes 10-15 minutes to test for the malaria parasites, it does not quantify parasite amount/ density. “The current test uses blood for diagnosing malaria and requires trained personnel because of its invasive nature,” said Ms Aluvaala. The test kit, expected to be out BRIEFS EA ancestors mainly ate grass bulbs 2.4m years ago An Oxford University study has concluded that ancient ancestors who lived in East Africa between 2.4 million and 1.4 million years ago mainly ate tiger nuts (grass bulbs). The study published in the journal PLOS ONE also suggests that these early hominins may have sought additional nourishment from fruits and invertebrates, like worms and grasshoppers. The study conducted on modern-day baboons in Kenya helps to explain a puzzle that has vexed archaeologists for 50 years. Tanzania seeks partners for development of drugs NEW ROADMAP The new Malaria Vaccines Roadmap will target next generation products by 2030. The updated 2013 Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap said that the world should aim to have licensed vaccines that reduce malaria cases by 75 per cent, and are capable of eliminating it by 2030. This means that more efficacious malaria vaccines and those that could eliminate the disease in different settings should be available by 2030. The on-going fight against malaria is complicated because of increased resistance of Plasmodium parasites to malaria treatment and control measures. by early next year, will only cost about $1.2. The study being funded by the Grand Challenges Canada at $100,000 for a period of one and A child is tested for malaria. Malaria kills 300,000 each year in EA. Pic: File half years is in the early stages of phase one and is being conducted in Msambweni at the Kenyan coast. Although a lot of lobbying and re- search on the use of saliva for testing is on-going no commercial kit is currently available. Luna Kamau, principal research officer in the Institute’s Centre for Biotechnology Research and Development (CBRD) and the lead researcher for the KEMRI project on the use of an “oral contraceptive” for male Anopheles mosquitoes said that the new method is expected to reduce mosquito population hence reduce the number of malaria cases in sub-Sahara Africa. The study is based on the con- cept of sterilising the male mosquitoes by feeding them on sugar foods mixed with the contraceptive in order to control their sperm production. “The male and female mosqui- toes feed on nectar from flowers to get energy but only females mosquitoes need to feed on blood when breeding in order to produce eggs,” said Dr Kamau. “That’s why we are feeding the male mosquitoes on the sugar contents.” The final results of the project will be released by April and then field trials will be conducted in Mwea in Central and Ahero in Nyanza regions, which are malaria endemic. The project started in June 2012 with a $100,000 funding from the Grand Challenges of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Various global efforts are under- way in the fight against malaria. The Global drug firm Glaxo- SmithKline and PATH, the main developers of the RTS,S malaria vaccine (the most advanced malaria vaccine) are awaiting the recommendation of WHO’s strategic advisory group on how and where the vaccine will be used. This follows the release of suc- cessful results of a Phase III trial of the vaccine that showed that malaria cases among children aged between five and 17 months had been halved. On Ma≥s, an ancient f≥eshwate≥ lake and pe≥haps life By KENNETH CHANG NY Times News Service ABOUT 3.5 BILLION years ago — around the time life is thought to have first arisen on Earth — Mars had a large freshwater lake that might well have been hospitable to life, scientists have reported. The lake lay in the same crater where NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity landed last year and has been exploring ever since. It lasted for hundreds or thousands of years, and possibly much longer. Whether any life ever appeared on Mars is not yet known, and Curiosity was not designed to answer that question. But the data coming back from the planet indicate that the possibility of life, at least in the ancient past, is at least plausible. John P Grotzinger, a professor of geology at the California Institute of Technology who is the project scientist for the Curiosity mis- sion, said that if certain microbes like those on present-day Earth had plopped into that ancient Martian lake, they would most likely have found a pleasant place to call home. “The environment would have existed long enough that they could have been sustained, prospered, grown, multiplied,” he said. “All the essential ingredients for life were present. “Potentially the aqueous stream, lake, groundwater system could have existed for millions to tens of millions of years,” he added. “You could easily get a lake with the area of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York.” The interpretation comes from detailed analy- sis of two mudstones drilled by Curiosity earlier this year. The structure, chemistry and mineralogy of the sedimentary rocks were not alien. “The whole thing just seems extremely Earth- like,” said prof Grotzinger. The scientists presented their latest findings at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco and in a set of six articles published in the journal Science. The surface of Mars today is frigid and arid, bombarded by sterilising radiation, but after it formed and cooled with the rest of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago, it was initially a warmer and wetter place during its first billion years. Over the past decade, scientists have identified several sites on Mars that they think were once habitable. NASA chose the 158-km-wide Gale Crater as Curiosity’s landing site because readings from orbit identified the presence of clay minerals, which form in waters with a neutral pH. Curiosity’s instruments indeed detected clays in the two mudstones, named John Klein and Cumberland. The clays appear to have formed at the lake bottom, not swept down from the walls of Gale Crater, strengthening the case that the lake water was not acidic. Tanzania is seeking partnerships with multinational firms to ensure local development of drugs. This comes just as a group of researchers in Mahale National Park in Kigoma Region discovered a plant that could be used in the treatment of breast cancer. The discovery was a culmination of 40 years of research that might lead to the production of new drugs for hardto-treat breast cancers. For a long time there has been no local drug development in the country due to lack of capacity, accredited standards and required infrastructure. Study on preterm babies could lead to treatment A new study on the causes of premature births points to a certain bacteria that if managed could lead to possible treatment for women at risk of early labour. The findings that were published in PLOS ONE journal suggest certain bacteria may lead to thinning of the membranes around the baby, causing them to tear. Preterm cases are prone to challenges that include difficulties in breathing, exposure to infections and the stress of having to stay in neonatal care units for specialised care. 29 A nurse checks on a preterm baby. Pic: File GSK melanoma treatment gets America’s FDA nod A combination treatment from GlaxoSmithKline for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has won accelerated approval from US regulators. The combined use of Tafinlar, also known as dabrafenib, and Mekinist, or trametinib, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is the first of its kind for a form of the disease with a specific genetic profile. Both drugs are already approved for separate use but GSK believes they will have a longer-lasting effect if given together. Industry analysts also see a combination offering the greatest commercial potential.
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