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May 13 is Ronald Ross’ 160th Birth Anniversary: Finding the course of Dreaded Disease ‘Malaria’ – for 8 Annas

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Ronald Ross, Wikimedia
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May 13, 2017: Affecting humans across all continents for centuries, this debilitating disease was long believed to be caused by unhealthy vapours, which gave its name – malaria (from Latin for bad air). While several scientists in the 19th century began zeroing in on its actual cause, the definitive proof was obtained by a British doctor in India who paid a volunteer eight annas for being bitten the same number of times by the suspected vector.

And Ronald Ross, who would be knighted and win the second Noble Prize for Medicine (not without controversy), celebrated his discovery by writing a poem to his wife – ending “I know this little thing/A myriad men will save/O Death, where is thy sting? Thy victory, O Grave?” (the last lines a reworking of the hymn “Abide With Me”).

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Though the discovery in August 1897 was built on work of many scientists around the world since the beginning of the century, Ross (1857-1932), whose 160th birth anniversary is on Saturday (May 13), was also a mathematician, novelist, dramatist, poet, amateur musician, composer and artist though it is as a persistent — and impulsive medical researcher he is most famous.

Born in Almora in the family of a British general, he studied in Britain where he proved to be exceptionally good in mathematics and wanted to be a writer but was admitted to St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College by his father in 1874.

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Though he spent most of his time writing poems and plays, he did pass his examinations to become a surgeon in 1880. He entered the Indian Medical Service in 1881 and was posted to various areas including Madras, Bangalore (where in 1883 he noticed mosquitoes could be controlled by limiting their access to water and suffered from malaria himself), Baluchistan and even the Andaman Islands.

His interest in malaria was sparked by a meeting with Sir Patrick Manson, the “father of tropical medicine”, during a spell of leave in London in 1894 and they discussed findings of Charles Laveran, a French army surgeon in Algeria who had discovered parasitical cells in the blood of a patient.

It was in Secundrabad, where he was posted in 1895, that Ross began his research to ascertain whether mosquitoes transmitted malaria parasites, but for years, made no headway.

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“Eventually in July 1897 he reared 20 adult ‘brown’ mosquitoes from collected larvae. Following identification of a volunteer (Husein Khan) infected with crescents of malignant tertian malaria and the expenditure of 8 annas (one anna per blood-fed mosquito!), Ross embarked on a four-day study of the resultant engorged insects. This ‘compact’ study was written up and submitted for publication.

“Imagine today sending an article to a leading medical journal ‘in which you describe observations on novel objects found on the midguts of just two ‘brown’ mosquitoes, obtained from larvae of natural origin, that you had previously fed on a naturally infected patient – with no appropriate controls and no replicates! What hope would it have of getting past the editor and reviewers,” asked Robert Sinden in an article on Ross and his discovery in the January 2014 bulletin of the World Health Organisation.

Sinden, of the Faculty of Natural Sciences in London’s Imperial College, however goes on to say that despite the “perceived inadequacies of the study design, it is difficult to overstate the importance of Ross’s paper: the award of a Nobel Prize hardly does justice to the subsequent impact of his conclusions”, especially in identifying the most vulnerable stage in the parasite’s lifecycle for effective intervention.

But that was not the limit of Ross’ contribution to fighting this — or other dreaded diseases.

Before resigning from the IMS in 1899 after trying unsuccessfully to find the cause of kala azar in eastern India, he subsequently joined the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and continued to work on prevention of malaria in different parts of the world. He also developed mathematical models for the study of malaria epidemiology.

Ross, who won the Nobel in 1902 (after a tussle with Italian researchers who had also identified the cause in 1897), went on to set up the Ross Institute and Hospital for Tropical Diseases in 1926 which he headed till his death.

But despite his path-breaking work, malaria, which due to its high mortality and morbidity levels, has had the greatest selective pressure on the human genome in recent history, still exerts its malignant effect across some of the world’s poorest regions — though some hope lies in a vaccine due to be tested in Africa the next year. (IANS)

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A Comprehensive Study Of Parasitic Worms Release Numerous Anwers

The analysis found almost a million new genes that had not been seen before, belonging to thousands of new gene families, and identified many new potential drug targets and drugs.

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parasitic Worm
A giant 25m worm representing the parasitic worm of schistosomiasis, that causes significant suffering and death to thousands of people around the world, is pictured on the Lake Leman on the occasion of the Neglected Tropical Diseases Summit, in Geneva, Switzerland. VOA

The largest study to date of the genetic makeup of parasitic worms has found hundreds of new clues about how they invade the human body, evade its immune system and cause disease.

The results point to potential de-worming treatments to help fight some of the most neglected tropical diseases — including river blindness, schistosomiasis and hookworm disease — which affect around a billion people worldwide.

“Parasitic worms are some of our oldest foes and have evolved over millions of years to be expert manipulators of the human immune system,” said Makedonka Mitreva of Washington University’s McDonnell Genome Institute, who co-led the work with colleagues from Britain’s Wellcome Sanger Institute and Edinburgh University.

parasitic Worm
World’s longest tapeworm. wikimedia

She said the results of this study would lead to both a deeper knowledge of the biology of parasites and a better understanding of how human immune systems can be harnessed or controlled.

Parasitic worm infections can last many years and can cause severe pain, physical disabilities, retarded development in children and social stigma linked to deformity.

Current medicines to combat them — including drugs made by Sanofi, GSK and Johnson & Johnson — can be moderately effective and are often donated by drugmakers or sold at reduced prices to those who need them. But the spectrum of drugs to treat worm infections is still limited.

To try to improve the potential drug pipeline and to understand how worms invade and take up residence inside humans and other animals, the research team compared the genomes of 81 species of roundworms and flatworms, including 45 that had never previously had their genomes sequenced.

parasitic Worm
How gut microbiota can aid in early diagnosis of liver cancer.

The analysis found almost a million new genes that had not been seen before, belonging to thousands of new gene families, and identified many new potential drug targets and drugs.

Also Read: Genes Tied To Obesity May Lower Risk Of Diabetes

“We focused our search by looking at existing drugs for human illnesses,” said the Sanger Institute’s Avril Coghlan, who worked on the team. She said this offered a possible fast-track route “to pinpointing existing drugs that could be repurposed for deworming.”

The study’s findings were published Monday in the journal Nature Genetics. (VOA)