Anti-Malarial Medication Might Soon Be Available for All

Reviewed: May 09, 2013
By eHealthIQ

Malaria afflicts more than 225 million people around the world, many of them children. About a million of these people will die of the disease each year. Anti-malarial medicines can save lives, but the most effective one is also too costly for many people in developing countries to obtain. Thanks to a new synthesis technique that relies on ultraviolet light, oxygen and yeast, anti-malaria medication may soon be accessible for everyone.Artemisinin, the most powerful anti-malarial drug, currently has a botanical source. The sweet wormwood plant that produces artemisinin costs to harvest and process. With the new process that Peter Seeberger and colleague Francois Levesque have developed, synthesized artemisinin could be widely available within half a year. For millions of people suffering with the debilitating, painful and sometimes fatal symptoms of malaria, the news can’t come soon enough.The researchers use a waste product from processing sweet wormwood for its artemisinin to provide the raw material, artemisinic acid, for the synthesis. Modified yeast can produce this compound in large volumes. A one-step process using energy from ultraviolet light transforms artemisinic acid into artemisinin. Because it requires little more than specialized lights, oxygen and yeast, this cost-effective process can produce millions of doses for the price of a few doses of extracted artemisinin.Artemisinin synthesis has obvious implications for malaria patients, but its benefits could extend considerably farther. Without medication, the most effective means of quashing a malaria outbreak was to eradicate the mosquitoes that carried the disease. That often meant massive pesticide distribution programs that effectively dealt with malaria epidemics, but damaged delicate ecosystems. Treating the disease at another point in its life cycle, the human host, minimizes it impact on the environment.Nor is malaria the only disease that artemisinin can potentially treat. Other infectious diseases and certain types of breast cancer are also susceptible to the drug. Testing of artemisinin to combat other illnesses continues, but its utility as an anti-malaria medicine alone has the potential to save millions.[via Science Daily]

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