Short-Circuiting Malaria

Malaria affects hundreds of millions of people throughout the world annually, killing over one million of them. Almost all of these victims live in third-world countries, and many of them are children—one estimate is that a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds. This Newsweek article, by Daniel Lyons, describes Intellectual Ventures, an American start-up that is trying to use first-world know-how to combat the disease. The company got its start when its founder, Nathan Myhrvold, was told by Bill Gates, “Come up with some good ideas and I’ll come up with some money to pursue them.” Some of the inventors mentioned are mathematicians, and one of those ideas is a massive mathematical model of the disease that “lets researchers see the effect of potential vaccines that don’t exist, so they can choose which one to develop.” Other ideas are also mentioned and many of them, as Myhrvold admits, sound farfetched. But really, as Lyons concludes, how can you argue against trying?

Addendum: In another development on the malaria front, researchers at Case Western Reserve University recently developed techniques that can quickly identify drug resistance in strains of malaria. The new technique is expected to “enable the medical community to react quickly to inevitable resistance and thereby save lives while increasing the lifespan of drugs used against the disease,” according to the article “New Methods, New Math Speed Detection of Drug-Resistant Malaria” from ScienceDaily. The key—developed by mathematics Prof. Peter Thomas and a student, Drew Kouri—involved “using a nontraditional mathematical analysis that’s proved more accurate than traditional methods.” (That ‘nontraditional analysis’ mentioned, by the way, was simply switching to polar coordinates.)

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