Disrupting the Complicated Cycle of Malaria: Caroline Ng Discusses her Work
In her research, Dr. Caroline Ng addresses how to effectively treat malaria as scientists face possible drug resistance.
She explains for listeners
- The cycle and stages of malaria-causing parasites and what causes common malaria symptoms,
- Why the asexual blood stage of the parasite is especially important in understanding how to disrupt its infection, and
- What signs of resistance are scientists observing and how her research hopes to solve the issue.
Caroline L. Ng, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She specializes in the pathogenesis of Plasmodium falciparum and the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying drug resistance.
She begins by explaining the life cycle of the parasites that cause malaria. Plasmodium spp. have evolved to require two hosts in their life cycle, mosquito and animal, and she specializes in the species that use human hosts in addition to the mosquito. She explains how the parasites move from mosquito saliva and make their way to the human liver. She describes their entry into red blood cells, how they divide asexually at an exponential rate, when they evolve into different sexes, and how a debris release causes the common malaria symptoms of fever and chills.
She then builds on this explanation to describe the issues facing researches in how to treat malaria as symptoms of drug resistance seem to be showing up. In particular, the parasite Plasmodium falciparum is of concern as it is the most virulent and causes the most deaths. Artemisinin is a potent drug that's short-lived that must be partnered with another drug to make sure parasites are being cleared.
But scientist in Southeast Asia have seen a decrease in the ability of this drug family to clear parasites. They worry this indicates artemisinin resistance. If they can understand this, they can designs drugs that synergize or identify a pathway to build up the efficacy of this drug. Along the way, she explains mechanisms of how these drugs work and how these poorer countries that face malaria need inexpensive treatments.