Teresa Carvalho is a senior lecturer of physiology, anatomy, and microbiology at La Trobe University in Australia. She explains the basic elements of parasitic diseases in humans and how parasites that cause malaria enter the blood stream from the salivary glands of mosquitos.
After they go to the liver, they return to the red blood cells, feed on hemoglobin, expand, and divide. One parasite can divide until as many as 32 leave one blood cell. They destroy red blood cells along the way, which leads to fever and other detrimental results. Disease progression includes severe anemia and debilitating cerebral malaria, which can result in blood clots and coma.
Dr. Carvalho takes this information and explains key moments for therapeutic intervention, the crux of her research. Because their time in the red blood cells cause malaria symptoms and disease, scientists think this is when to focus treatment and research. She adds that it’s a more accessible moment for research because they can culture these parasites in the lab in red blood cells. She also describes some of the mystery causes of malaria.
For example, even the red blood cells that are not infected by the parasite die—she and her lab are trying to understand why. One theory involves extracellular vesicles these parasites use to communicate with each other. She also describes challenges to these studies, the hope of repurposing drugs that are used for other disease, as well as the urgency: children under five are the largest group that die from malaria.
For more about her work and to contact her with questions, see her page on the La Trobe University website: scholars.latrobe.edu.au/display/tcarvalho.
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