According to the World Health Organisation, nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria. The disease, caused by parasites transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes, took the lives of 435,000 people in 2017. Young children, pregnant women and non-immune travellers are particularly vulnerable. However, increased malaria prevention and control measures are reducing the disease with mortality rates falling by 29% since 2010.
LJMU is doing its part to help take on malaria. As a part of the Centre for Natural Products Discovery within the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, PhD student Stephanie Tamdem Guetchueng is isolating the bioactive molecules from natural sources in order to develop new drugs against malaria.
What have been the discoveries from your research so far?
“I have been able to demonstrate that some plants used locally in Cameroon for the treatment of malaria such as Pseudospondias microcarpa, commonly known as African grape, a plant belonging to the same family as the mango tree, have potent biological antimalarial activity that might justify their use in traditional medicine in areas affected by malaria. I have also been able to isolate some new compounds from these antimalarial plants which might have antimalarial properties (this is yet to be confirmed).”
Why are natural products explored for malaria control?
“Nature is like an open and accessible library containing thousands of compounds whose potential is still to be revealed. Quinine and artemisinin, two potent antimalarials that subsequently led to the development of other more active derivatives, were both discovered and isolated from plants. Natural products represent a great asset for the development of future antimalarials. In fact, the very first antimalarial drug, quinine, purified from Cinchona succirubra, led the way of antimalarial therapeutics.”
Why are people still dying from malaria if prevention and treatment are available?
“Malaria is endemic to very poor countries where the average population does not have access to hospitals nor modern medicine. In addition, in these countries, the difficulty to control the vector, the mosquito Anopheles, contributes to increase the incidence of the disease because of the resistance of the latter to insecticides.”
How will your research help in the fight against malaria?
“As the resistance phenomenon of the malaria parasite to current existing drug is increasing, there is an urgent need to find new molecules that can be used to tackle malaria resistance. Therefore, my research is looking for molecules from plants that can be used as templates or leads for the development of new antimalarials.”
In your opinion, will malaria ever be eradicated?
“Yes, eradication is possible. Taking preventive measures such as sleeping under impregnated nets, respecting the malaria prophylaxis, and developing new antimalarials to fight resistance and control the mosquito’s vector will definitely lead to reducing malaria to a level where it is no longer a life-threatening disease.”
What can people do if they want to help create a malaria-free world?
“Malaria is a serious health problem in the world, particularly in Africa and South-East Asia. About 400,000 people, mostly children under five, die each year as a result of the disease. Supporting malaria research can help the development of new antimalarials and put into place free preventive measures for children in endemic areas. There are several available organisations fighting for the eradication of malaria. Making a donation would be very beneficial to help eradicate malaria.”
Did you know?
- Symptoms of malaria are flu-like and include fever, headache, chills and vomiting. If not treated within 24 hours, malaria can progress to a severe illness which can often lead to death
- Of the more than 400 different species of Anopheles mosquito, around 30 are significant malaria vectors and these vector species bite between dusk and dawn
- Sub-Saharan Africa carries a high proportion of the world's cases of malaria, with 90% of cases and 92% of deaths recorded in 2015
- More than two thirds of all malaria deaths occur in children under the age of five
- Insecticide-treated mosquito nets can be effective for 2-3 years. Between 2010 and 2015, there was an 80% increase in the use of the nets for at-risk populations in Sub-Saharan Africa
You can find out more about malaria from the World Health Organisation website.
The Centre for Natural Products Discovery within the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences carries out research on multidisciplinary subjects including synthetic organic medicinal chemistry, natural products drug discovery, pharmacology and toxicology. Currently, researchers are working on several projects related to antimicrobial control, human reproductive system improvement, as well as cancer and malaria.