• Question: if you could change one medicine what would it be?? Why? if you could take one disease away from the world what would it be? why?

    Asked by iluvbacon to Enda, Jean, Kate, Kev, Tim on 18 Nov 2012.
    • Photo: Tim Downing

      Tim Downing answered on 18 Nov 2012:

      Hi Iluvbacon,

      The biggest killer of people by parasitic diseases is malaria, which kills an estimated 2,000-3,000 people each day around the world. It affects children in particular. It evolves very quickly and so drug resistance is a major issue. The best drugs are based on a compound called artemisinin, which is a big bundle of carbon atom rings that includes peroxide. This peroxide part can react with the parasite molecules to disable it. So if a more powerful version of this were created, then it would save many lives.

      The alternative option in development would be to target the mosquito vector that spreads malaria between people by first feeding on the blood of an infected person with the parasites. Then, the parasites divide inside the mosquito before it feeds on an uninfected person, who now get the malaria parasites from the original infected person. So if we reduce the number of mosquito vectors then we can help eliminate the disease. The idea behind this is to mutate the vector DNA to make the males sterile. Then these males who cannot successfully reproduce are released into the wild and reduce the total number of mosquitoes in the next generation.

      2 out of 3 of malaria deaths occur in children and are very preventable, which is why taking malaria away would be my option. And by making better medicine to treat it, this should be possible.


    • Photo: Jean Bourke

      Jean Bourke answered on 21 Nov 2012:


      I don’t know which medicine I’d change but I would love if if we have some new powerful antibiotics without the side effects associated with the really harsh ones.

      The biggest challenge in designing a drug making it selective. Selective means that it goes where you need to go and doesn’t effect other parts. This is much harder than you’d think. A lack of selectivity is what usually causes side effects. In cancer for example a lot of drugs are aimed at quickly dividing cells, which mainly means the cancer but can also mean other quickly dividing cells. This is what causes many of the side effects associated with chemotherapy like hair loss or nausea. I would love to find a way to make medicines more selective. In fact this is what some of the people I work with are trying to do: use sugars to target cancer. I’m working on the sugars on bacteria so perhaps my work can lead to new antibiotics or something similar.

      If I could eliminate one disease it would probably be depression. We know so little about it. It effects 1 in 3 people and can often go unnoticed in others. I think it can really destroy lives and because you can’t see it often people feel too ashamed to seek help. Suicide can destroy families in a different way to death from another illness because it is so taboo to talk about it. If I could I would love to help those suffering through depression and their families.

      It is so hard to pick just one thing though!