Malaria Research Community

Published by Saj on 26 January 2006 - 11:30pm

Tackling Malaria with Open Science

Note - To see the current open research projects on malaria, such as our new open source drug discovery project, go to the current projects page.

Read about the current project status of the currently most active open source drug discovery for malaria project.

However, the most active and current parts of the project are on the Github To Do list.

The Synaptic Leap is an organisation dedicated to tackling biomedical research problems with open science - all data and ideas are freely shared. Malaria is one of the most serious diseases afflicting humankind, and we feel opening up the research can only be a good thing.


What's the Problem with Malaria?

Even with huge advances in biomedical science, malaria eradication has eluded mankind. (See WHO and CDC sites for malaria background).  This lack of effective control, the appearance of drug resistant strains of malaria in the field along with the enormous mortality and socioeconomic loss have been the driving forces to search for novel malariacides and anti-malaria immunotherapies.  Worldwide, malaria prevalence is 300-500 million cases annually.  This preventable scourge causes 1-2 million deaths per year, mainly confined to Africa and to children less than 5 years of age; representing 10% of all deaths in Africa and 30 to 50% of all hospital admissions.  To put this number into perspective, the children in Africa that die every day due to infection with malaria would fill 7 Jumbo jets and a moderate infection consumes an equivalent amount of protein as there is in a burger (remember this the next you grab some fast food!).  These numbers clearly illustrate the pressing need for effective control, cure and prophylaxis for malaria. (See the excellent overview on the economic loss due to malaria by Gallup and Sach).  In addition to children, high-risk groups include pregnant women and non-immune travelers such the armed forces, labourers and refugees.  Once infected, the individual becomes feverish and drowsy, vomiting and shivering may also occur, accompanied by anemia.  There is also an increased susceptibility to infection by other diseases, and malaria has been linked with impaired cognitive development in children and therefore educational achievement.  Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to severe malaria and are more likely to deliver underweight babies.  There is a strong correlation between malaria prevalence and poverty, and poor countries are further burdened by the inability of infected individuals to work and care for their families.  For a long time malaria has been a neglected disease of developing countries, however, there has been a recent global drive to eliminate this devastating disease.

Who's Involved Globally and How Does TSL Fit In? 

Some large pharmaceutical companies have an interest in malaria, for example GSK and Novartis. A lot of malaria research is carried out in many other academic and clinical labs worldwide. Malaria research has had substantial increases in funding in recent years (for example the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Fund), and even large multinational coalitions have also been formed to Roll Back Malaria'

Nonetheless, there is still a lack of novel anti-malaria immuno and chemotherapies on the market, mainly due to the huge percieved expense of taking a potential drug through the chemotherapy validation process. The vast chasm that exists between academic target validation, lead compound optimization and clinical trials has been tackled by a number of non-profit based organizations such as MMV and One World Health.  Moreover, the enormous global expertise in malaria that has accumulated over the years is spread into discrete laboratories, where valuable information is not easily available to the malaria community.  However, this collective knowledge can now be usefully disseminated by tapping into an Open Science based global malaria resource - and here is where the TSL comes in.

What's this Open Science thing?

Open science is the application of open source methods to experimental science. So all data are freely shared on the web, and anyone can participate. There are no patents. [Links coming to resource page]

What can you do?

Read, think and suggest. An open project is only as strong as its contributors. Do not worry about making mistakes in public, or admitting ignorance. It is only through free and uninhibited dialogue and collaboration that we will accelerate science. 

You don't need to be a member of TSL to contribute, but feel free to sign up if you'd like alerts. There are also a number of other places on the web that you can get involved. [coming] 

Get Involved with an Open Research Project 

Go to our current projects page for a list of projects in process. You can comment directly or "add a child page" (see the link at the bottom of the pages) to start something new (a "fork" in open source software development) and describe your own open research project for malaria.

If you're still in the brainstorming phase of starting a project, write a blog article to discuss your ideas with other scientists around the world also studying malaria. Working together, we can direct the research towards the most promising ideas.

You can also help shape and direct other malaria research ideas by reading and commenting on other community posts

Keep Up To Date with The Latest Malaria Information

There's a research tools page for malaria as well as an RSS news feed.  If you know of a useful tool that we don't have on the list, add a comment about it.

An Unfortunate Fact to Keep in Mind

In the time it has taken you to read this page, 5 to 6 children have died of malaria. 


rayonsoleil's picture


Probably everyone over the age of 50 knows about quinine for malaria -- from reading about the English colonials in India -- even if they didn't know anything else about treatments for malaria.
However, I remember seeing mention of methylene blue quite some time ago and can't help but wonder about this. Certainly it would have to be inexpensive compared to most treatments. Even if it is not very effective, might it not be better than no treatment at all . . . which seems like the fate of many, in Third-World countries.
What has happened to the idea (or the reality) of methylene blue?
I know this is off of the genetic-metabolomic-enzymic track, but sometimes the simplest remedy is the only one that will actually work. Thanks much.
Saj's picture


methylene blue paved the way not only to drug development in malaria but also the textile dye industry. It was very effective against malaria but was replaced with 'better' drugs with fewer side effects  - methylene blue would turn urine green and eyes blue!  in saying that I see that i see that there a resurgence of ineterest for using methylene blue as an anti-malarial