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Graduate student helps fight malaria

Every year, malaria affects up to 500 million people worldwide. The mosquito-borne disease kills more than one million a year - mostly young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, artemisinin is the first-line drug treatment, but there's growing concern about drug resistance. At the University of California, San Francisco, researchers - including graduate student Katherine Sorber - are working to combat this.

Katherine Sorber, UCSF Graduate Student:          It's important for us to figure out if parasites can become resistant to artemisinin and if so, are there ways we can get around this by maybe changing some of the structural elements of the drug or something like that. But first we have to figure out how resistance actually works.

Narrator:        The main concern is that researchers may run out of options for drug treatment.

Sorber:           Many of the past malaria drugs, chloroquine, sulfadoxine, pyrimethamine, have rapidly developed resistance in the field.  So, basically you have someone come into the clinic with malaria to be treated. If you give them these drugs that in the past have cured malaria, they no longer cure malaria.  And so artemisinin is the only drug actually out there right now that cures all malaria but they're starting to see signs in the field that it doesn't cure it as fast as it used to. So that's worrying because we don't actually have any other drugs in the pipeline that are ready to go. So hopefully our research will give some insights into how the malaria parasite works and what some of its vulnerabilities are.  And will also give us insight into weaknesses that we can exploit for further drug development possibly getting around this problem of artemisinin resistance or other drug resistance.