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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

The War on Malaria

Malaria is an exotic disease in the United States, perhaps seen only when an infected traveler returns home. Officially, the disease was declared eradicated here in 1949.

In much of the world, however, malaria remains a persistent scourge. An estimated 1 million malaria-related deaths and 300 million infections occur annually, primarily among children under the age of 5 and pregnant women.

More than 3 billion people—almost half of the world's population—live in regions where malaria is endemic. The Amazon region is one of them, and it is the focus of a new, major anti-malaria initiative headed, in part, by researchers from the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Armed with a seven-year, $9.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Joseph Vinetz, M.D. '91, a UCSD professor of Medicine, will lead an ambitious effort to establish a new Peruvian/Brazilian International Center of Excellence in malaria research. It will be staffed by scientists, doctors and field researchers based both in the United States and in Brazil and Peru.

The new Peruvian/Brazilian Center will address questions and problems particular to the Amazon Basin, such as: What are the characteristics of the area's most prominent malaria-transmitting mosquito, and why does it appear in previously non-infested areas following deforestation? What traits define the majority of residents who are infected by malaria, yet display no clinical symptoms? How do their lifestyles and travel patterns affect transmission of the disease?

"Our goal is audacious, like that of the NIH overall," says Vinetz, a tropical disease specialist. "We seek global eradication of malaria."And maybe more. Vinetz is also leading efforts with UCSD faculty, medical and graduate students, residents and fellows to create a formally organized Center for Tropical and Emerging Diseases at the University. The center's goal will be to bring fundamental biomedical discoveries at UCSD to Peru, Mozambique and other places where clinical and field investigations of diseases that disproportionately affect the poor and dispossessed are actively under way. .

—Scott LaFee