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Medicine Technology

Robots and Irradiated Parasites Enlisted In the Fight Against Malaria 84

Posted by samzenpus
from the closer-to-the-cure dept.
First time accepted submitter einar.petersen (1178307) writes "Sanaria is a biotechnology company that has developed a new malaria vaccine. To produce the vaccine Sanaria cultivates mosquitos in a sterile environment and infects them with Plasmodium falciparum. When the mosquitos are chock-full of Pf sporozoites, the company irradiates them to weaken the parasites. Workers then herd up the mosquitos, chop off their heads and squeeze out their salivary glands, where the parasites prefer to live the better to port over to the mosquito’s next victim. They retrieve the weakened parasites from these tiny glands, filter out other contaminants and gather them up into an injectable vaccine. Sanaria’s method faces the additional challenge that dissecting the little buggers is tedious. Researchers can dissect 2-3 mosquitos an hour, which is nowhere near enough to mass-produce a global vaccine. So two years ago, Sanaria began working with the Harvard Biorobotics Lab to develop a robot that could do the work faster."
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Robots and Irradiated Parasites Enlisted In the Fight Against Malaria

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02, 2014 @07:57AM (#47146015)
    This is exactly what happens when you raise the minimum wage. All the mosquito head chopping work gets automated.
    • If the disenfranchised workers get hostile, can the system scale up to protect itself?
      Well officer, it was a peaceful protest until several ex-employees rushed the mosquito decapitation station...
      we have their remains in these vials over here...
    • Given what some countries people will work for, maybe this could be outsoursed?

      Or maybe Meg Whitman can offer a HP 3D Printer that makes the robots?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Not quite the pitch I originally made, rather heavily edited - But nevertheless great to see the submission accepted.

    I truly wish Sanaria the best of luck with their venture and hope the slashdot community will help them reach their noble goal!

    • Re: Hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Monday June 02, 2014 @08:14AM (#47146097) Homepage Journal
      That's unfortunately quite a tall order for the Slashdot community. Now, if you'd wish they'd ramble tiresomely about tiny mosquito-decapitating robot overlords running out of control, you might not go home quite so disappointed.
      • Though your post is already looking prophetic, remember that by posting, you are the Slashdot community.

        If you can change just one nerd...

      • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

        That's unfortunately quite a tall order for the Slashdot community. Now, if you'd wish they'd ramble tiresomely about tiny mosquito-decapitating robot overlords running out of control, you might not go home quite so disappointed.

        That may be, but can you imagine a beowulf cluster of headless mosquitos?

    • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday June 02, 2014 @08:35AM (#47146167)

      Not quite the pitch I originally made, rather heavily edited - But nevertheless great to see the submission accepted.

      I truly wish Sanaria the best of luck with their venture and hope the slashdot community will help them reach their noble goal!

      Right, I'm not sure why the Slashdot "Editors" think its OK to completely alter your submission and then post it as if it were a quote directly from you.
      The first paragraph of your submission:

      "Sanaria is a biotechnology company dedicated to the production of a vaccine protective against malaria caused by the pathogen Plasmodium falciparum has developed a vaccine that in trials has proven to be 100% effective."

      Absolutely nothing like what they posted and then claimed as a quote from you. I'm not sure what they think they're doing but they're opening themselves up to a lawsuit should they post the wrong thing and claim it was from the wrong person.

      It concerns me to the point that I don't think I'll be submitting any time soon. As of yet, they haven't "invented" quotes from me that were inappropriate but the potential is definitely there. Either post what I submitted verbatim or make it clear you've altered it. Don't make up your own submission and then put it into quote flags and claim it's what I wrote. I didn't write that and, to be frank, Slashdot editors aren't qualified to be speaking on behalf. I'd understand if it was just spelling or grammar corrections but completely altering the post is entirely different.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        Right, I'm not sure why the Slashdot "Editors" think its OK to completely alter your submission and then post it as if it were a quote directly from you.

        Well, when you realize that almost every /. "somebody writes" is "quoting" something actually written by someone else, your outrage may be quenched. In this case, the "First time accepted submitter einar.petersen (1178307) writes" claim actually quotes almost verbatim from the original article which has a byline of Cameron Scott. In fact, I say "almost" because I don't see an exact duplicate of the first sentence, but the rest is there.

        I'm not sure what they think they're doing but they're opening themselves up to a lawsuit should they post the wrong thing and claim it was from the wrong person.

        Imagine Cameron Scott applying for a new job and he gives his potentia

  • Perhaps a decade from now, when the vaccine is available, the poor folks living in these areas can stop cursing at the western do-gooders who got DDT banned.

    • Re:second best (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Monday June 02, 2014 @08:47AM (#47146235)

      Perhaps a decade from now, when the vaccine is available, the poor folks living in these areas can stop cursing at the western do-gooders who got DDT banned.

      Yeah, then we can get back to putting lead in gasoline, and treating VD with arsenic.

      • IIRC, the problem with DDT was that is was used indiscriminately and in large quantities, rather than locally, in small quantities, and only use it if the situation warrants it. The dangers of using DDT in that manner may well have warranted the outright ban, but it's been proven since that DDT can certainly be used responsibly, especially against the spread of malaria.

        It's similar to the practice of putting antibiotics in cattle feed to prevent / treat diseases or promote growth. Feed used to be laden
        • by geekoid (135745)

          DDT is still used in some areas. However more use means less effective over time. Insects evolve resistance. PLus, a vaccine is better. Killing mosquitoes impacts bird population.

          There is exactly zero evidence that any resistant bacteria comes from cattle. IT has all come from hospitals; which makes sens if you actual understand how it works,

      • by fche (36607)

        ... because all environmentalist efforts are equally valid (?)

    • by the gnat (153162)

      Perhaps a decade from now, when the vaccine is available, the poor folks living in these areas can stop cursing at the western do-gooders who got DDT banned.

      DDT isn't actually banned in the countries where malaria is endemic - the US isn't one of these, obviously. In fact, mosquito control is still agreed to be a valid use for DDT, unlike agricultural pest control. I know "environmentalists kill people" is a fun meme but would it kill you to get your information from someone other than Michael Chricton?

    • DDT didn't get banned in malaria countries, dummy.

    • by clovis (4684)

      Perhaps a decade from now, when the vaccine is available, the poor folks living in these areas can stop cursing at the western do-gooders who got DDT banned.

      DDT is not banned in regions where malaria is prevalent.

      http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/... [epa.gov]

    • by Layzej (1976930)

      Perhaps a decade from now, when the vaccine is available, the poor folks living in these areas can stop cursing at the western do-gooders who got DDT banned.

      Likely they are already aware that DDT was never banned (and is still in use) in areas with malaria. There's no stopping the frothing of the anti-environment types though - vaccine or no.

      • by fche (36607)

        The scale of DDT spraying has shrunk in those areas - limited to indoors instead of areas.

        • by Layzej (1976930)
          Yes. It turned out that carpet bombing with DDT just created DDT resistant mosquitoes.
  • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Monday June 02, 2014 @08:19AM (#47146115) Homepage

    Wow.

    My wife just got malaria a few weeks ago while visiting Africa. She heard there was a vaccine in development, so I figured it was the usual weakened culture, but I had no idea it actually required dissecting mosquitoes.

    I also didn't realize it was Plasmodium falciparum. This is pretty amazing, as not only is falciparum the most deadly species, but it's also the one that responds least to current treatments. If successful (and mass-producible), this could be like the polio vaccine. It'd be a huge advancement in the health of malaria-threatened countries.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Now if we could just figure out the exact protein that triggers the immune response and just use that it might be easy to produce.

    • If successful (and mass-producible), this could be like the polio vaccine.

      It won't be like the Polio vaccine unless:

      1) It is introduced after Malaria is already all but eradicated due to better hygiene and sanitation.
      2) It takes credit for the former.

  • And sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads!
  • I am interested in exactly how they cut off mosquito heads and empty the salivary glands.
    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Monday June 02, 2014 @08:48AM (#47146253)

      I am interested in exactly how they cut off mosquito heads and empty the salivary glands.

      It's very similar to the way they get mothballs.

    • by exploder (196936)

      Me too. I hope it hurts.

    • There are two techniques, in fact. The older one involves tickling the mosquitoes till they laugh out aloud, and they plunge a tiny syringe in and extract the saliva. Good thing is, we can reuse the mosquito, bad thing is, when the mosquitoes are rolling on the floor laughing it is difficult to plunge the syringe in.

      The second technique involves showing them mildly amusing videos and when they smile, it is easier to slip through the syringe and extract the saliva.

  • Apparently linux is now being used used to chop heads off! Watch out ms!
  • by pauljlucas (529435) on Monday June 02, 2014 @08:36AM (#47146177) Homepage Journal
    I would have thought that one of the US Military (to protect service personnel), Bill Gates (isn't his foundation working on a malaria vaccine too?), or governments in malaria regions would fund this. The desired $250K is nothing for such sources.
    • by Threni (635302)

      I want some robots. Can I have $250,000 too?

      You see the problem.

    • They _are_ actually funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation as well as NIH. The reason for the crowd funding is to accelerate SporoBot, rather than writing yet another grant and waiting 9 months for it to come through.
      • I can understand the NIH process taking 9 months, but you'd think Bill's foundation would be a lot quicker. A malaria vaccine is probably in the top 5 things to solve. You'd think Bill would take notice and write the check himself.
        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          You'd think Bill would take notice and write the check himself.

          If Bill were involved, he'd buy the company, kill whatever technology competed with MS, and incorporate what he wanted to copy into the next release of Windows with a press release trumpeting MS cutting-edge research into seamless solutions. And the vaccine would only be available through the Microsoft Certified Solution Provider program.

  • Thank you so much Slashdot for posting this. It made my day. I can't remember the last time I read something so inspiring and exciting. Time to make a donation...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Maybe I'm underestimating the resourcefulness of the robots in question, but somehow I don't think that the vaccine produced in this heroic manner will ever become widely available to the people who need it, many of whom live on $2 a day. It's awesome that it works, but now that we know it, I would love to see us focus on exactly how the weakened parasite produces the immune response. Then we can try to either engineer an organism like Plasmodium falciparum that doesn't need need mosquito saliva in its life

  • I'm quite scared by that. You first irradiate them, causing huge amount of genetic mutations. Then you change the environment, killing weakest mutants and let the best live on.
    Isn't it a recipe for eventually creating super-bug?

    • by mmell (832646)
      This technique isn't that far from the one pioneered by Salk nearly a century ago. Isolate and identify the pathogen, then manufacture a weakened or dead version of the pathogen to inoculate patients.
    • by godel_56 (1287256)

      I'm quite scared by that. You first irradiate them, causing huge amount of genetic mutations. Then you change the environment, killing weakest mutants and let the best live on. Isn't it a recipe for eventually creating super-bug?

      Did you miss the part where it's all done in a closed laboratory and they chop the mosquitoes' heads off?

      • by abies (607076)

        Decapitatiting mosquitoes is hardly going to affect the parasite, which is the thing getting irradiated and possibly mutated. Closed labolatry doesn't really matter, because they are then going to inject irratiated parasites as vaccine.
        Key part here is probably amount of radiation - way beyond "let's damage few DNA strands" and more into "why your blood is glowing at night". It is probably strong enough that there is no way any mutation can survive it.

  • Well, I thought this was worthy of a $5 donation. Now let's just hope they don't spend that much with mailings trying to get me to contribute more.
  • ... I could be a part of the next clinical trial!

    I'm sorry if this sounds too self-centered but assuming that the vaccine has been proven to be safe (I'll take the risk that it might not be effective), I'd be happy to make a donation of a few hundred dollars to be one of the first people to receive it. (I live in a part of the world where I could get malaria). I figure that if I paid a lot more than they expect the final vaccine to cost (there's no way they'll be able to reach hundreds of millions of peop

    • by dave420 (699308)
      It would cost them thousands to get the vaccine to you and to monitor your reaction.
  • or markers, couldn't they manufacture the vaccine in quantity using recombinant DNA techniques?

    Just thought I'd ask.

  • by PPH (736903) on Monday June 02, 2014 @09:19AM (#47146477)

    ... made me think they were cross-breeding the robots and mutant parasites.

    I eagerly await the next Japanese horror movie.

  • Hum, I wonder why they don't just have the mosquitoes with the weakened parasites bite people. Seems like a lot of work to dissect mosquitoes, concentrate the vaccine, deliver it to doctors, put it in a syringe and inject it. Just ship the mosquitoes to where they are needed, put them in a box, and have people who need immunity stick their arms in the box.

    • by phorm (591458)

      Wouldn't the irradiation that weakens the parasite also kill/weaken the mosquito?

  • Sadly the Indiegogo campaign is at only 14% of the $250,000 asked for ($34,000) with 5 days to go. Although unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo campaigns get whatever money is raised even if they fail to hit the target.
  • Why couldn't they just release the irradiated mosquitos directly into affected areas and have them act as a free vaccine distribution vector? I do appreciate that there will be issues but the final costs would be orders of magnitude lower and this approach would naturally be targeting the areas where mosquitos are most active.
  • Here's a demo of the new robot. Surely it would be easy to downside and re-purpose these for mosquito heads.

    http://www.theonion.com/video/... [theonion.com]

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