First-Year University Student Sets Her Challenges Malaria and Big Pharma

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In her first year as a Life Sciences student at the University of Toronto, Jessie MacAlpine has developed a plant-based drug to fight the effects of malaria. The project’s name is Mustard Oil as an Apicomplexan-targeting Drug Therapy for Plasmodium falciparum, which won the Best Category for Medicine and Health Sciences at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She came up with the idea for the project when she was still in high school, after reading a newspaper article about how herbicides have the potential to treat malaria.

Courtney Hallink, The Varsity

Courtney Hallink, The Varsity

MacAlpine has already applied for a patent for the drug, which is still in test trials to determine its efficacy in mammals. Her goal is to provide a cheap and effective medication for malaria that will be widely available in the developing world, and by patenting the drug she hopes to prevent the potential exploitation of a life-saving medication. A possible outcome “if a pharmaceutical company had discovered the treatment first” is that they could “transform it into an expensive, brand-name medication for wealthy travelers visiting developing countries” (Varsity) instead of making it affordable for the people who live in those countries where malaria is endemic.

The drug itself is incredibly inexpensive, and the main ingredient (mustard oil) is already grown and used in many countries that suffer from malaria. The research is certainly promising, but still in the early stages of trial studies to determine its efficacy in mammalian subjects. According to the Toronto Star it will take 10 years and millions of dollars before the drug is able to be distributed.

Jessie MacAlpine, winner of the International Cooperation Prize, will be speaking at TEDxUofT on March 1, 2014.

Information for this article has been sourced from the following articles:

 

The Varsity and The Toronto Star

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Calondra Mainhart

Calondra Mainhart

Calondra is a writer, artist, and English teacher living in Turrialba, Costa Rica.

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