Could a fruit help us in the fight against malaria? Christianah Dare is examining the sugar apple (Annona squamosa) as a potential drug.
– I am interested in natural products and especially in the sugar apple. I am focusing on chemicals called polyphenols in my research. The sugar apple does not grow normally in my home country Nigeria but it all started as I planted it in my garden. I wanted to see what there was in the fruit and what it can do.”
Christianah Dare would like to contribute to the fight against malaria and give a better life to the people in her country and to the world.
Resistance is a problem for all drugs
There are various antimalarial drugs, but Christianah Dare explains that resistance is emerging even to the best of them such as Artemisinin.
– This is why we need new drugs. Since my arrival in Finland I became a member of Professor Adrian Goldman's research group at the Molecular and Integrative Biosciences Research Programme.
Professor Goldman is working on a new potential target, a protein called mPPase, which does not occur in humans.
– I want to see if compounds from the sugar apple seeds might kill the malaria parasite. My initial tests say – yes, it does!
One of the most serious global killers
In 2020, there were an estimated 241 million new cases of malaria and 627,000 malaria-related deaths in 85 countries. More than two-thirds of deaths were among children under the age of five living in Africa. These data are a global worry and stimulated Dare as a scientist to join in the war against this pandemic.
– My home country, Nigeria, accounts for about a third of all deaths: about 200,000. That is a lot of grieving parents, a lot of human suffering, and a lot of children who never grow up, Dare says.
Climate change has an impact on the occurrence of malaria, when rains increase.
– It is currently a threat in the tropics. With global warming it is going to be a global threat. Once upon a time there was malaria in England, even in Finland. It can come back, Adrian Goldman adds.
– Malaria is higher in occurrence during the rainy season. The mosquitos lay eggs in still water – in ponds and lakes – even in a broken tyre, Christianah Dare points out.
– There are many serious parasite diseases, which cause a huge disease burden for both people and cattle. Although malaria is the biggest killer, there are other zoonotic diseases like African sleeping sickness, which kills cattle. Insects will spread both North and South as the climate warms. There are areas in Africa where it is impossible to keep cattle. You cannot put a cow under a mosquito net, Professor Goldman says.
UN Sustainable goals in focus
Developing malaria drugs has a positive impact also on many other factors than health issues.
– My research is relevant to five of the seventeen UN sustainable goals. Good health and well-being (especially child and infant mortality and tropical diseases); to reducing inequalities by supporting the participation of women; and indeed, to ending hunger, economic growth, and reduce inequalities – because these kinds of parasites not only kill humans, but also farm animals like cows. New drugs could have a huge impact, Dare explains.
Christianah Dare arrived in Helsinki through the University’s Africa initiative, which aims at increasing mobility and creating new partnerships for early career researchers. She is going to stay for eight months.
– I have had wonderful experiences with my home team in Adrian’s lab and the collaborators: Karmen Kapp, Jari Yli-Kauhaluoma, Seppo Meri and Ayman Khattab.
– This is a great opportunity to explore my dream as a scientist and make my contribution to the scientific world while developing myself at the same time. I look forward to learning new scientific techniques and procedures, making discoveries that will contribute to health improvement, meeting new people, and impact as many as I come across scientifically and otherwise, says Christianah Dare.
– I appreciate the University of Helsinki for putting this together to reach out to Africa and allow young scientists to have the opportunity to materialize their scientific aspirations. I believe this will keep getting better in the future. I am excited to continue this collaboration between Helsinki and me and other African scientists.
Read more about the University's Africa Programme.
Dr Christianah Adebimpe Dare from Nigeria is the first researcher to take part in the University of Helsinki’s ambitious Africa initiative, which aims at increasing mobility and creating new partnerships for early career researchers.
Dare is currently a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Biochemistry,
Osun State University apart from her position at the University of Helsinki. Dare is the Nigerian Focal Person for Diana, an NGO here in Finland with Headquarters in Turku.
– I moderated a programme that involved some educational organisations like GINTL (Global Innovation Network for Teaching and Learning).
These organisations discussed what they do, shared their links and the call was on GINTL , Dare says.