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For the old malaria challenges, the new technologies!

The issue 109(5) August 2014 of Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz is dedicated to advances in Malaria research, with special reference to vector control, epidemiology and the use of new technologies (proteomics, metabolomics etc) (Lacerda et al., 2014). This is the fourth time Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz publishes a special issue for malaria. Looking back to these published issues we cannot avoid thinking of how the knowledge and technology have changed since the publication of the first special issue in 1986. In that year the available technologies for diagnosis and molecular epidemiology analysis were very limited in scope and power. Those were the times of the heroic Sanger sequencing, which was entirely manual, dependent on radioactive labeling and polyacrilamide gel electrophoresis and the output was no more than one hundred bases per run. Likewise, Southern blot (for DNA) and Nothern blot (for RNA) were among the horse-powers of the typical molecular biology laboratory. The concept of high-throughput at that time was meant to be the maximum number of graduate students/post docs/technicians a laboratory could gather to develop a specific project. The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) had been just invented (1985) and a few dozen labs were trying the potential of this technique, which was carried out manually in reaction tubes without any thermostable polymerase (Taq polymerase was not yet available, instead Klenow Fragment of E. coli DNA polymerase I was the enzyme used to replicate DNA). The first machines were bigger, costly and displayed no real time methods or fluorescent chemistry as the ones we routinely use nowadays. Plasmodium sp. resistance was already in the concern of the researchers, but the involvement of single nucleotide polymorphism in key genes has not been associated as major player and how they could spread in the populations was also not clear at that time (it is still poorly understood!). Randomized clinical trials of artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) were a 'future perspective' to malaria researchers and no synthetic routes to its complex chemical structure had been described as well. Despite the global movement of persons and goods the frontiers for Anopheles mosquito remain unaltered, and the real threat is the fast track to resistance that Plasmodium populations develops as soon as a new therapeutics is deployed in the field.
These are the problems and challenges that malaria researchers have been facing so far, but what about the solutions? The malaria special issues published in Memorias do Inst Oswaldo Cruz in 1986, 2007 and 2011 tell us a history of smart analysis and questioning but also of failed expectation. Most of the proposed solutions or technical pathways to bring the malaria challenge to a more tractable alternative (from both scientific and public health perspective) have been hampered by the double complexity of Plasmodium – human interaction. Human populations behavior and biology might be viewed as multi-agent system and are inherently unpredictable in their interactions results, which become increasingly complex when unicellular organism like the Plasmodium adds an extra layer of actions after their first meeting. Instead of the two single parameters in right side of the parasitism equation, the Plasmodium entry in human body leads to a series events that are the result of genome content asymmetry: three billion nucleotide bases for humans and one hundred million for Plasmodium unveil a set of biochemical reactions that ultimately leads to debilitation in one side and survival and gene transmission on the other.
This amazing genome meeting mobilizes multidisciplinary teams of biochemists, molecular biologists, parasitologists, immunologists, epidemiologists, chemists, policy makers, drug companies, non government organizations, patients, activists, physicians. An impressive amount of brain power is deployed today to control and deal with the much smaller Plasmodium genome, and the results are somewhat frustrating. Malaria is still a heavy burden for several countries in the non developed world, and the perspectives are not enthusiastic: no effective vaccines, the permanent threat of resistance to last generation of drugs (artemisinin-combination therapy - ACT), the climate alterations opening new frontiers to Plasmodium species and Anopheles vectors, the poverty and economic drawbacks limiting the reach of public health policies.
All these facts remind us of the metaphoric words by Prof. Leonard Jan Bruce-Chwatt that appeared in the first malaria issue in 1986: "Like Hydra, the monster of Lernean marshes in Greek Argolis which had nine heads, malaria has not yet encountered its final Heraclean conqueror. Like Hydra, which grew two new heads as soon as one was cut off, malaria remains one of the main health problems of the developing tropical world".
While we wait that the scientific investigation enterprise may one day provide us with affordable solutions to Malaria challenges, Memorias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz opens its pages to record all the milestones of this somewhat recent evolutionary race between humans and Plasmodium species.

Adeilton Alves Brandão | Publisher Editor

 

REFERENCES

Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz 81(supl2) 1986.

Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz 102(3) June 2007.

Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz 106 (Suppl.I) August 2011.

Lacerda MVG, Costa FTM, Lourenço-de-Oliveira R. Malaria research in Brazil: we are doing well. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz 109(5) August 2014, p.515-516.

Bruce-Chwatt, Leonard Jan. - Malaria control at the cross-roads! Where do we go from here? Mem. Inst. Oswaldo Cruz; 81(supl2):1-4, 1986.

 

Call for new section papers: Genome Announcement and Highlights

Memorias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, the leader and centenary full open access journal of Parasitology, Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases in Latin America, is launching a new section for rapid scientific communication: Genome announcement and Highlights. This section is dedicated to publish new genome information from eukaryote parasites, virus, bacteria and vectors. Authors who wants a fast peer review and publication cycle for their research results covering new genome sequences, re-sequencing and comparative genome analysis as well as the expression pattern of genomes are invited to submitted papers under the short communication format. All submissions will immediately be checked out for compliance to Memorias editorial standards and then two associated editors for genome research will perform the peer review. Memorias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz is striving to provide an affordable and no cost publication vehicle to researchers throughout the world in the fields of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine, especially the neglected tropical diseases, aimed to give a quick and widest possible audience to new genomic findings in these areas.

 

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