A first-year University of Toronto student has developed a potentially cost-effective vaccine for the treatment of malaria in developing countries that is made from mustard oil.
Jessie MacAlpine, a first-year life sciences student, recently sat down with the university’s student paper The Varsity to discuss her research, which was “extraordinarily successful at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where she won Best of Category for Medicine and Health Sciences,” the paper reports. This is just one accomplishment of many. She also recently placed first in the International Cooperation Prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists where she was a Canadian ambassador.
“I am currently working on in vivo studies to confirm the drug’s efficacy within a mammal model. If this experiment returns results as promising as the in vitro studies, the hope will be to conduct clinical trials before establishing potential distribution channels,” she told The Varsity. “The drug itself is very inexpensive—the necessary dose costs approximately a millionth of a cent—resulting in the major inhibitor to treatment being distribution. Potentially partnering with organizations such as the World Health Organization or Malaria No More could allow the inexpensive drug to reach those who are most affected by the disease. As well, because mustard oil is readily available in many malaria-endemic regions, these organizations could potentially run awareness campaigns to ensure the public is informed of the oil’s antimalarial properties.”
MacAlpine has also chosen to patent her compound for multiple reasons, most notable to ensure the research and drug stays under her name in an effort to prevent a larger pharmaceutical company from claiming the idea—something she says could prevent the compound from reaching those who need it most. She also says it will make it easier for her to approach investors and potential laboratories once it’s time to facilitate clinical trials.
Malaria kills more than one million people each year, especially in developing nations, the Varsity reports. MacAlpine hopes to soon locate a lab to facilitate a clinical trial and has her eyes set on an observational study in India, where mustard oil is used for cooking.
“Despite my research focusing on the efficacy of the raw oil, it is possible that there is still a degree of antimalarial efficacy observed with consumption of the cooked compound. An observational study would hopefully allow a trend such as this to be determined. Finally, if all stages of drug testing return positive results, I will have to partner with a global health organization to organize awareness and distribution channels,” she says.
MacAlpine will be speaking more about her research at the upcoming TEDxUofT conference on March 1.
This article first appeared on Yonge Street.