Malaria is one of the world’s oldest diseases, killing about 600,000 people every year, mostly children under the age of five. Scientists at a research facility in Spain, run by the GSK pharmaceutical company, have discovered a new weapon against malaria by chance. They found that a colony of mosquitoes being used for drug development had stopped carrying malaria. Further studies revealed that a specific strain of bacteria, Delftia tsuruhatensis, which is naturally present in the environment, had stopped the development of the malaria parasites in the gut of the mosquitoes. This discovery could be a new tool for fighting malaria, and trials assessing its safety in the real world are now taking place.
How the Bacteria Works
New data published in Science magazine suggests that the bacteria can reduce a mosquito’s parasite load by up to 73%. The bacteria works by secreting a small molecule, known as harmane, which inhibits the early stages of the malaria parasite growing in the mosquito’s gut. Harmane can either be ingested orally by the mosquito if mixed with sugar or absorbed through its cuticle on contact. This lays open the possibility of treating surfaces in areas where the insects rest with the active compound2.
Trials and Future Possibilities
More trials are now taking place at a contained field research facility called MosquitoSphere in Burkina Faso to assess how effective and safe it would be to use harmane at scale in the real world. The hope is that by developing this bacteria-based intervention into a product, scientists may soon have another tool in the box against malaria. With a strong innovation pipeline, it is possible to end the threat of malaria in our lifetimes.
The discovery of Delftia tsuruhatensis bacteria and its potential to help eradicate malaria is promising. This new weapon against malaria could be a game-changer in the fight against one of the world’s oldest diseases.