Malaria is a life-threatening disease that can be prevented and cured if detected in its early stages. Despite these facts, the disease claims the lives of approximately 600, 000 people every year. Although there are drugs available to fight malaria, the parasite that causes the disease is becoming increasingly resistant to the available drugs. Alternative measures need to be considered in the battle against malaria.
The UN World Health Organization has noted that about 3.3 billion people - half of the world's population - are at risk of malaria, and around 1 million people worldwide are killed by it every year.
New drugs to fight malaria may well lie at the bottom of the ocean, according to researchers studying over 2,500 samples from marine organisms collected at depths of over 900 metres. In 2010 they had already found 300 that contain substances that can kill the parasite.
Marine creatures have been used in the prevention and cure of a number of medical problems such as cancer, heart disease, bacterial infections and other ailments. Due to the vast amounts that is left unexplored, the great depths of the oceans provide hope to medical experts.
"Healing powers for one of the world's deadliest diseases may lie within sponges, sea worms and other underwater creatures," said an internal publication by the University of Central Florida (UCF) after a study of samples collected off the Florida coast in the United States with the help of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, Florida.
"So far we have a hit rate of over 10 percent," said Debopam Chakrabarti, Professor of Molecular Biology and Microbiology at UCF, who is leading the research. He was "quite enthused by the promise of the project", but warned that "early promise does not always materialize" into a usable drug.
Chakrabarti has spent over 20 years researching treatments for the mosquito-borne illness, and turned to the largely unexplored biological potential of the ocean because "[current] drugs are becoming increasingly less effective and [malaria] is still killing," he told IRIN.
Africa Fighting Malaria
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
World Health Organization (WHO)