Fighting back against malaria

Some of the biochemical tricks the malaria parasite uses to become resistant have been unravelled thanks to a series of discoveries by Dr Rowena Martin and her colleagues at the Australian National University.

She is using those insights to give a new lease of life to chloroquine, the wonder drug against malaria first discovered in the 1950s.

For more than half a century chloroquine saved hundreds of millions of lives, but now chloroquine-resistant malaria strains have become common in developing countries.

Rowena is working to understand what happened. The single-celled malaria parasite enters our bodies when we are bitten by an infected mosquito.

It eventually invades and plunders our red blood cells, consuming the haemoglobin contained within.

The digestion of haemoglobin, which takes place in the parasite’s stomach compartment, releases the iron-containing, nonprotein component, haem.

Free haem is toxic to the parasite, which responds by converting it to a harmless crystal. Chloroquine works by blocking the formation of these crystals.

Ten years ago researchers discovered that just a few small changes in a protein PfCRT were enough to give the parasite resistance to chloroquine. But they did not know what the changes did.

Rowena developed a system to study PfCRT in frog eggs—allowing her to examine it in isolation and in detail.

“We found that it moves chloroquine out of the parasite’s stomach compartment so that the drug can’t accumulate at its site of action.” For her achievements to date, in 2010 Rowena won a $20,000 L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship.

Photo: Rowena Martin, the Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne. Credit: L’oréal Australia/SDP media.

Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Rowena Martin, Tel: +61 2 6125 8589, Rowena.Martin@anu.edu.au, www.scienceinpublic.com.au/loreal

Fighting back against malaria

Rowena Martin

The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne

Rowena Martin, The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)
Rowena Martin, The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)

In the 1950s it seemed as if medical science was winning the fight against malaria with the help of the ‘wonder drug’ chloroquine. Over the past half century the drug has saved hundreds of millions of lives.

But now the parasite that causes malaria has fought back. Chloroquine-resistant malaria has become common in developing countries. Rowena Martin is working to understand what happened, and to develop new ways of treating malaria. Continue reading Fighting back against malaria

Life beneath the sheets: 9000 years in the dark

Researchers at Geoscience Australia have unravelled the development of a unique seafloor community thriving in complete darkness below the giant ice sheets Looking into the borehole. Credit: Geoscience Australiaof Antarctica.The community beneath the Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica is 100 kilometres from open water and hidden from view by ice half a kilometre thick. This ecosystem has developed very slowly over the past 9,000 years, since the end of the last glaciation.

Today it is home to animals such as sponges and bryozoans fed by plankton carried in on the current. Dr Alix Post studied shell fossils within core samples where she unexpectedly found evidence of these isolated ecosystems.

Supercomputer to test nanoparticles before we make them

Playing with virtual gold nanoparticles. Credit: Amanda Barnard, CSIRO
Playing with virtual gold nanoparticles. Credit: Amanda Barnard, CSIRO

Every new technology brings opportunities and threats. Nanotechnology is no exception. It has the potential to create new materials that will dramatically improve drug delivery, medical diagnostics, clean and efficient energy, computing and more. But nanoparticles could also have significant health and environmental impacts.

Continue reading Supercomputer to test nanoparticles before we make them