Scientists Detect Malaria in 15 Minutes with 20-cent Paper Centrifuge

Stanford bioengineers have created an ultra-low-cost, hand-spun centrifuge that separates blood into its individual components in only 1.5 minutes [1]. Inspired by an ancient children’s toy called a whirligig, the “paperfuge” can be used to detect malaria in blood in just 15 minutes.


Anti-parasite Drugs and the Nobel Prize for Medicine

nobel medal in medicine

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was announced earlier this week [1]. The prize was awarded to three scientists who developed therapies by looking at natural, local substances, against parasitic infections.

The prize of 8-million-Swedish-krona ($1.2-million USD) was divided, with one half jointly to Drs. William C. Campbell, age 85, at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, USA, and Satoshi Omura, age 80, at Kitasato University in Tokyo, Japan, for their work on a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites, and the other half to Dr. Youyou Tu, age 85, at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing, China, for her work on a novel therapy against Malaria.

Open Source Drug Discovery for Malaria

The term “open source” describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s source materials. I’m sure you’ve heard of open source software such as Perl, WordPress, Linux and Android, and are familiar with open content projects such as Wikipedia and Wiktionary, but what about open source drug discovery?

Specifically, Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) for Malaria is a project launched earlier this year by The Synaptic Leap (TSL), a non-profit organization for open source biomedical research. They focus on providing online tools to allow researchers to coordinate efforts and exchange knowledge. Project members can participate in online discussions, author blogs, and use aggregated RSS feeds to stay current with news and research.

Open Source Drug Discovery for Malaria

Why malaria? Because malaria is one of the most serious public health problems in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world.

Malaria is a potentially fatal blood disease caused by a human parasite called Plasmodium falciparum. Malaria is transmitted to human and animal hosts by the female anopheles mosquito. Although the disease can be treated in just 48 hours, it can cause fatal complications if the diagnosis and treatment are delayed.

Malaria is a disease of several different strains; five species of Plasmodium can infect and be transmitted by humans. Malaria is currently the fifth cause of death from infectious diseases worldwide, following respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, and tuberculosis, and the second cause of death in Africa, following HIV/AIDS.

OSDD Malara is a hub for global efforts in open source drug discovery for malaria. The initial participants of OSDD Malaria are the lab of Dr. Matthew Todd, an organic chemist, at the University of Sydney and the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV). Other participants in the project include scientists from the University of Melbourne and Griffith University in Australia, and GlaxoSmithKline in Madrid. As an open science project, anyone can come and join, and participation is encouraged at any level.

OSDD Malaria will be holding an open source drug discovery for malaria meeting in Sydney, Australia on February 24th, 2012. The meeting, like the organization’s data, is open to all and will hopefully be live-streamed to a global audience. The aim is to work out how best to do open source drug discovery. More details will be coming soon.

If you want to get involved, you can sign up for The Synaptic Leap updates (by joining), follow Matthew Todd on Google+ (where data is often presented), or follow the OSDD Malaria Twitter feed.

The OSDD Malaria project status is described on the OSDD Malaria wiki.

Synergy Between Antibiotics and Nonantibiotic Drugs

Antibiotic resistance is an ever-growing clinical problem. Four years ago, a study found that antibiotics are overprescribed for sinus infections. Compounding the issue is the fact that as bacteria are learning to tolerate and even circumvent existing classes of antibiotics, not enough work is being done to discover new ones. Combinations or cocktails of antibiotics are often used to broaden the antimicrobial spectrum of each and to achieve synergistic effects; this approach has successfully been applied to combat tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria, and famously, HIV. Yet the discovery of effective combinations has usually been almost fortuitous, most often resulting from trial and error rather than a systematic analysis.

Antibiotic cocktail

In the current study, researchers systematically examined combinations of 1,057 compounds previously approved as drugs to find those that exhibited synergy with the antibiotic minocycline. Their work is reported in the April 24, 2011 issue of the journal Nature Chemical Biology [1]. The compounds were chosen because they have already been approved as drugs, they are known to have activity in vivo and are known to be relatively safe. Many approved drugs are known to have utility for clinical indications other than those for which they initially received approval. Moreover, using pre-approved compounds also reduces the time and cost associated with developing new compounds for therapeutic use.