Malaria is a major problem in some parts of the world, killing almost one million people annually, according to the World Health Organization. In addition, the disease is becoming difficult to treat as problems due to drug resistance worsen. To combat the problem, researchers at Penn State are investigating the use of low-dose microwaves to destroy malaria in vivo.
Supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the scientists are now working on the second phase of the research, which involves testing the treatment in mice and investigating the mechanism enabling microwaves to kill malaria parasites. The previous phase of their studies demonstrated, in a laboratory culture, that microwaves could destroy the malaria plasmodium without damaging normal blood cells.
“Microwave interactions are unique. The parasite has extra iron ( Fe3+) that enhances the microwave energy absorption by the parasite. As a result, it is postulated that the parasite gets heated preferentially and is killed without affecting the normal blood cells,” explains Dinesh Agrawal, professor of materials at Penn State.
When the second phase of the research is complete, the scientists plan on developing a larger microwave system capable of treating humans. “That could be revolutionary,” Agrawal says. “A human-size device might look like the scanners at the airport,” he adds.
Press release: Microwaves Join Fight against Malaria
Image by Ute Frevert; false color by Margaret Shear