Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Malaria Fever...Catch It

And be richer for the experience, in Seattle:
Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) is announcing plans today for a facility where volunteers will be exposed to the deadliest form of the [malaria], which kills at least a million people a year. Most victims are African children.

But scientists are quick to point out that participating in the clinical trials won't be a life-threatening experience.

While many volunteers will actually contract malaria, the cloned strain used in the experiments can be quickly cured, and does not cause a recurring form of the disease.

More than 900 people have participated in malaria trials at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland, which pioneered the use of human tests more than 30 years ago. The only other two labs that conduct similar experiments are in England and the Netherlands.

There have been no deaths or hospitalizations in the trials, said Lt. Col. James F. Cummings, M.D., chief of Walter Reed's clinical trials center.

...."It's really important for people to understand how well-controlled this process is," said Dr. Patrick Duffy, head of SBRI's malaria research programs. "The disease follows a predictable course, and it's treated very early — as soon as parasites show up in the blood."

It's highly unusual for medical researchers to intentionally expose people to a disease — particularly one as serious as malaria. ....

But there's a long history of infecting people with malaria, first to induce fever and cure syphilis, and later for the studies that yielded many modern malaria drugs. The Army refined and standardized the process, developing a strain of parasite with no drug resistance.

The trials are time-consuming and will require several nights under medical supervision in a hotel. Volunteers will be compensated, probably in line with the $2,000 to $4,000 paid at Walter Reed. The initial trials will begin within 18 months, Duffy said.

A private lab in Seattle's South Lake Union district, SBRI has become a top malaria research center, largely because of funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The world's richest philanthropy has devoted more than $1 billion to a multipronged attack on malaria, including $350 million for one of its top priorities: development of a vaccine.

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