The answer to tackling the worldwide scourge of malaria could lie in the humble bowl of soup, scientists say.


For hundreds of years, a home-made bowl of nourishing broth has been used to fuel people battling the effects of flu and fever. Now UK scientists have shown that some traditional vegetable and meat broths can prove more than a match for one of the deadliest malarial parasites in the world.

They were shown to interrupt the life cycle of Plasmodium falciparum, which causes 99 per cent of deaths from malaria and is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Half the world’s population is vulnerable to malaria, and resistance to the drugs used to treat it continues to emerge.

The researchers were prompted to investigate whether there were any further natural remedies after the discovery of the antimalarial artemesin, which originates from qinghao, used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine to treat fever.

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They asked pupils from Eden Primary School in London to bring in samples of home-made soups made using family recipes passed down through generations. The children’s ethnic backgrounds ranged from across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

They incubated extracts from 56 broths for 3 days with different cultures of Plasmodium falciparum to see if any could stop the growth of the sexually immature parasites. They also assessed whether the samples could block sexual maturation – the stage at which the parasite can infect the mosquito.

Many samples were found to increase the rate of parasite growth. But 5 of the broths curbed growth by more than 50 per cent, with two of them as effective as a leading antimalarial drug, dihydroartemisinin, and 4 others were more than 50 per cent effective at blocking sexual maturation, so potentially stopping malarial transmission.

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The authors, from Imperial College London and Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: “This journey, mirroring that of artemisinin from the qinghao herb, may as yet reveal another source of potent anti-infective treatment.”

Reader Q&A: Could mosquitoes deliver malaria vaccines?

Asked by: John Leslie Boden, Northampton

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against malaria, despite decades of intense research and development. More than 20 potential malaria vaccines are in their trial phases though, which aim to efficiently eliminate certain stages of the life cycle of Plasmodium – the malaria-causing parasite that some mosquitoes carry and inadvertently infect us with.

There has been a proof-of-concept study that shows mosquitoes could deliver a candidate vaccine through their saliva, but how much they deliver depends on how many times they bite someone, so delivering the right dose of a vaccine would be incredibly challenging.

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The recipes of the vegetarian, chicken and beef-based broths varied, and no particular ingredient was common to those which demonstrated the strongest antimalarial activity. The active ingredients in the broths studied are yet to be identified and tested in clinical trials, the researchers warned.

They said it was a successful exercise in teaching children about the relationships between natural remedies, traditional medicine and evidence-based drug discovery.

They added: “At a time when there is a resurgent voice against evidence-based medicine, such exercises have great importance for educating the next generation about how new drugs are discovered, how they might work and how untapped resources still exist in the fight against global diseases of significance.”


The findings are published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.


Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.