Malaria: a sticky problem at the Edinburgh International Science Festival
Researchers from Alex Rowe’s lab in the School of Biological Sciences went to the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April 2018 to talk about their research on severe malaria.
Malaria is still one of the deadliest diseases in the world – each year over 0.5 million people die from the disease and another 200 million are infected.
The disease is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted to humans by the bites of infected mosquitoes. The parasites travel from the skin to the liver, where they grow before bursting into the bloodstream and infecting the red blood cells.
One of the big problems in malaria is that the red blood cells infected with malaria get very sticky.
The infected cells can then stick both onto the surface of uninfected cells, and to the linings of blood vessels, which blocks blood flow like hair stuck in a plug hole.
Understanding more about these sticky interactions is the main focus of work in Alex's Rowe lab in the School of Biological Sciences. They hope that that if they understand more about the stickiness they may be able to find out ways to stop the stickiness and design new treatments for severe malaria.
Engaging visitors at the Edinburgh International Science Festival
In April 2018 two doctors studying for a PhD in the Rowe lab, Fiona McQuaid and Olivia Swann, took their work to the Edinburgh International Science Festival to explain what they are studying and how new understanding is helping to tackle the disease.
Sliding or sticking in the tube
To give a hands-on demonstration of just what happens when red blood cells are infected with malaria, the team used red blood cell toys and red tubing.
Visitors compared how many of the “uninfected” red blood cells (without Velcro) could slide through the "blood vessel" tube, with how many of the “infected” red cells (with Velcro) could pass through a similar sticky tube.
Everyone had a lot of fun – and the visitors, young and old, got real insight into what malaria infection does to a patient and why more research is still needed before malaria can be beaten.
Find out more
For more information about the work in the Rowe lab visit their website