The Science Bit: Part 2 – New Findings in Malaria Research

30 06 2010

With the recent announcement that BioMed Central is to host its second conference, Parasite to Prevention, at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh in October, this month’s Science Bit uncovers the mysteries of malaria, a disease that affects around 400 million people each year, and kills around 2-3 million people.

Malaria is a disease that is caused by a parasite – not mosquitoes, as is commonly and erroneously presumed, but a single-celled organism going by the name of Plasmodium. The poor female Anopheles mosquito is merely the carrier for this microscopic beastie (males don’t bite!), but since they’re found tropical and subtropical regions covering 40% of the world, they are a big problem. Once infected, the hungry mosquito inadvertently injects a small amount of parasite-rich saliva into its human victim at the same time as it draws a blood meal. The parasites move to the liver where they reproduce inside red blood cells, then burst out to infect more healthy cells. The effects of malaria infection are not felt until weeks or even months later, when sufficient numbers of parasites begin to make you feel very ill with headaches, sweats, vomiting and muscular pain.

For the most part, malaria is a preventable disease. Taking simple measure such as sleeping under mosquito nets, wearing insect repellent and taking very cheap antimalarial drugs, can significantly reduce the risk of being bitten by mozzies and thereby avoid a Plasmodium infection.  However, since 90% of malaria deaths occur in the developing world, most notably in Sub-Saharan Africa, the resources and finances to provide these prophylactics is simply not there. In addition, Plasmodium is cleverly beginning to adapt in ways that make it resistant to drugs, thus posing new challenges to malariologists.

The obvious solution to any infectious disease problem is to find a vaccine. Indeed, several institutions around the world have been researching the possibility of a malaria vaccination for many years with some promising results, but as yet no effective, safe vaccine has been developed. The problem with Plasmodium is not only is it very good at hiding inside our own cells to avoid our immune systems, but it also has a very complicated life cycle, continually shape-shifting in order to reproduce undetected. Researchers investigating a possible vaccine are faced with endless ways that the parasite could be stopped in its reproduction cycle, but a painstaking task in identifying the ways that will be most effective, with the greatest patient safety.

One area of traditional malaria research has focussed on finding ways to prevent the parasite from entering red blood cells. If this can be achieved, the parasite, free in the blood, has nowhere to hide and can be eliminated by our body’s natural immune defences. A new development from the Harvard School of Public Health however, published in a recent issue of Science, suggests that the key to preventing the reproduction of malarial parasites may be to hold them prisoner instead. After identifying a protein that is used by the parasite to kill and burst out of red blood cells, the researchers have found a way to block this protein so that instead, Plasmodium is locked inside, unable to escape and reinfect.

An alternative approach to malaria eradication, published in BioMed Central‘s Malaria Journal in November last year, suggests that releasing into the wild sterile male mosquitoes, which are sexually active but incapable of producing offspring, could be effective in controlling the vector population. Since female Anopheles mosquitos only breed once in their lifetime, ensuring that they partner with a sterile male will in time decrease the number of biting babies and could provide a lasting solution to this tricky problem.

BMC Blog

29 06 2010

I’ve recently been asked to become a moderator for the BMC Blog, the official blog of BioMed Central, the open access publisher of biomedical research that I work for as a freelance editorial assistant. The blog is contributed to by several people within the company (and if I had a little more time I’d contribute to it myself!), so my role as “duty blogger” is to edit and sign off blog posts before they are published. This helps to ensure a consistent style, good spelling and grammar, and to check that the posts are interesting and of relevance to our readers. I work as part of a team of duty bloggers who take it in turns to review blog posts, so since it was my turn to moderate last week, I thought I’d share with you some of the interesting posts that were published…

Kaus Design Studio

25 06 2010

I’ve recently been hired by the CEO of the Kaus Media Group, based in Trinidad, to write copy for a number of websites including some of their own companies. The first of these is now live! Kaus Design Studio is a web design and development company that is part of the Kaus Media Group. It specialises in web design, of course, as well as corporate branding, custom logo and graphic design, content management systems and a range of print media services as well. The beach-themed website inspired a laid-back, relaxed copy style with a touch of tongue-in-cheek humour to reflect the Caribbean soul of the company. I’m told there’s plenty more work where that came from, so this is a really exciting time for my copywriting services!

Conflict of Interest?

17 06 2010

My first ever paid freelancing job was to write two Wikipedia pages, one a biography of a Hungarian-Australian entomologist named George Bornemissza, and the other a outline of his work on the Australian Dung Beetle Project. I was commissioned to write the pages on behalf of George’s son, Zoltan, who wanted to commemorate his father’s life and work in some small way.

Almost a year later, and I have recently been commissioned with two other Wikipedia writing projects. The first was to write a Wikipedia page about the infamous, love-em-or-hate-em, and just today I uploaded a Wiki article about Father Robert Reed, Boston-based Catholic priest and director of the American CatholicTV network. Both of these projects were awarded via

Less than 24 hours after I wrote and uploaded the Father Reed article, and the Wiki geeks are already on my back. Apparently it’s frowned upon to be paid to write a Wikipedia article because it constitutes a conflict of interest. I do kind of see where they’re coming from, but my question is, if the article meets Wikipedia guidelines in terms of being non-biased, non-promotional and well sourced, does it really matter if I was paid or not? To a certain extent, I can understand why people may have some concerns over the two most recent Wikipedia offerings. As can be seen from the comments on this site, clearly has a mixed reputation, and it was difficult to write an encyclopaedic entry for a company without sounding like I was trying to promote them – especially as I’d been paid to do it in the first place! However, I do think that I have succeeded in my aims and produced articles that meet Wikipedia’s stringent rules; I am rather frustrated by the dictatorial Wikipedia administration volunteers who instantly blacklist articles they don’t like, rather than providing constructive criticism and feedback to the author.

As regards the Father Reed article, this too is non-biased, makes no outlandish claims and doesn’t scream “FATHER REED IS AMAZING AND SO IS CATHOLICTV!!” I’ve never met Father Reed, nor seen CatholicTV, nor am I likely to – I was simply providing a service. Father Reed, a Catholic priest for God’s sake, hired a third party to edit the page precisely because it is against Wikipedia guidelines to write about yourself. I really don’t know what the Wikipedians have got their knickers in a twist about.

The thing that has really got my goat however, is the fact that one of my lovingly-created dung beetle articles, the biography of George Bornemissza, which has happily sat on the Wikipedia shelf for almost a year without even so much as a whisper of a comment from an admin, has now been blacklisted because I apparently have a “close relationship” with the subject. I’m really quite upset about that. Not to discount the Freelancer or Father Reed pieces, but the George Bornemissza article really was a labour of love. I spent hours poring over notes, photographs, letters and articles to create the biography and its research counterpart, the Australian Dung Beetle Project. I feel that they are valuable contributions to Wikipedia and the scientific world at large and am most offended by the rash decisions taken by overzealous Wikipedia admins.


What are your thoughts on this “conflict of interest” issue? Am I right to feel upset at the suggestion that I am underhandedly trying to promote people, businesses or scientific research by exploiting Wikipedia, or am I nothing but a cold-hearted, money-grabbing swindler who deserves to be burnt at the Wikipedia stake? Does it matter if someone is paid to author a Wikipedia article? I’d be interested to hear what the general concensus is on this, and if I’m in the wrong, I won’t ever write another word on Wikipedia. Comments please!

Pixel Designer

8 06 2010

Here’s  the live website for a copywriting project I recently completed for a small web and graphic design company called Pixel Designer. Ably managed by Rizwan Chauhan and his team, the company, based in Essex, provide a range of bespoke web and print media services for local businesses.

The copy needed to be of a professional quality in order to compete for bigger business with other similar firms in the area, and descriptive enough to get the message across without being too wordy. Combined with Rizwan’s colourful and eye-catching design, I think the Pixel Designer website certainly delivers class and quality.

We All Like to Reblog (via News)

2 06 2010

We All Like to Reblog Have you ever come across a blog post that you enjoyed so much you wanted to easily share it with the readers of your own blog? Sure, you can copy and paste the link and perhaps even a snippet of text with your own comments, but overall it's not a particularly enjoyable experience. We wanted to change this and make sharing other posts with your readers as easy as posting to your blog. Today we're introducing a new like and reblog feature enabled … Read More

via News

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