Anopheles mosquito: Death on the wing. The female Anopheles mosquito carries malaria parasites in her saliva. When she bites, the parasites enter a new human host.
Twilight—the most dangerous time on the African plain. For this is when the deadliest creatures come out, looking for a meal. A lone female senses her prey on the evening air. Following the scent, she sneaks closer, swoops up and lands on her victim, plunging her sharp, needle-like weapon into the soft unprotected skin.
The female Anopheles mosquito needs mammal blood to nourish her eggs. But while taking her meal, she passes on Plasmodium—a microscopic parasite that will live and grow inside of its human host. First the microbe invades liver cells, multiplying until the cell walls burst. Millions of parasites are set free in the body to attack red blood cells.
Mild cases of malaria produce fever, nausea and other unpleasant symptoms. Severe cases can lead to liver damage, anemia and death.
Taking aim at a killer
The clean, bright halls of the University of Minnesota medical research labs are 8,000 miles and a world apart from the steamy, tropical hill country of rural Uganda. Yet in these sterile labs, Benjamin Ho studies how Ugandans fight off one of their deadliest enemies, malaria.
Ho takes a hand-sized plastic plate divided into 96 small compartments wells. Into each one he places a piece of deactivated malaria parasite. Then he adds blood serum from a volunteer patient in Uganda. If the serum has antibodies for that piece of the parasite, they will stick. A chemical wash dyes the antibodies yellow, allowing Ho to count them. He then compares these results to the patient’s history.
Meeting the malaria menace. Medical researchers study the parasite that causes malaria, hoping to find a weakness that may lead
Courtesy CDC/ Steven Glenn, Laboratory & Consultation Division
If Ho and his colleagues find that the patients who recovered from malaria the best all have a particular antibody, then a vaccine mimicking that antibody may have a shot at stopping malaria cold.