Malaria treatments could eventually no longer be necessary for expatriates moving abroad to tropical regions, following a groundbreaking discovery from international healthcare researchers.
Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute have genetically modified one of the bacteria found in the mid-gut of mosquitoes and discovered the parasite that causes humans to develop malaria cannot survive in these creatures.
The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and supported by the Bloomberg Family Foundation, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, could challenge one of the greatest threats to expatriate medical insurance customers.
Every year, at least 800,000 people are killed from malaria, with children representing a large proportion of these individuals.
According to the US' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of fatal occurrences are in the African region, with 216 million cases estimated to have occurred internationally over 2010.
Symptoms of the condition include a flu-like illness, chills and a fever, with patients potentially developing severe complications if the disease is untreated.
Researchers found when the Pantoea agglomerans bacterium is modified to secrete proteins the Plasmodium falciparum (P. falciparum) lifeform that causes malaria finds toxic, the organism was 98 per cent effective in curtailing mosquitoes' burden of the malaria parasite.
Furthermore, these toxins did not appear to cause any harm to humans or mosquitoes.
The proportion of mosquitoes that carried P. falciparum dropped by 84 per cent and this could pave the way for the use of genetic modification as a tool to deal with malaria, the scientists said.
Senior study author and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena noted: "In the past, we worked to genetically modify the mosquito to resist malaria, but genetic modification of bacteria is a simpler approach."
"We demonstrate the use of an engineered symbiotic bacterium to interfere with the development of P. falciparum in the mosquito," he stated.
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