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May 9, 2013

Editor's note: Tackling a deadly disease

May 9, 2013

From the doorway, I watched the tiny baby breathing so hard, so fast, so labored. I was in a children’s ward in Zambia this past February with my coworkers to report on the malaria and epilepsy research done by MSU physician Gretchen Birbeck.

Our film crew and photographers were working throughout the ward, but our producer, Jim Peck, and I stood in the doorway, not wanting to get in the way and not wanting to be any more intrusive to the families than we already were. I could not take my eyes off that baby in his mother’s arms. I made myself look around to all the mothers in that ward as they sat with their desperately sick children, but my tear-filled eyes kept coming back to the tiniest child of all. I silently willed him to get better—to survive.

The devastating fact is that many of those sick babies in Africa don’t survive and malaria is often to blame. An estimated 700,000 people die from malaria each year, most of those children in sub-Saharan Africa.

For decades, MSU physicians and researchers have dedicated themselves to tackling this horrible disease and its effects. They often find themselves in poor clinics tucked away in remote villages treating patients and looking for cures. They study ways to stop the disease from spreading. They work with communities to secure resources like bed nets or a much-needed MRI machine. They heal. They care. They solve problems. They save lives.

Karl Seydel, assistant professor of osteopathic medical specialties, has been working in Malawi as part of an MSU team looking for answers in the fight against childhood malaria. As reported this week, he and his colleagues have identified a test that can determine which children with malaria are likely to develop cerebral malaria, a much more life-threatening form of the disease. (Read more about Seydel’s research>>)

Seydel also shares a more personal perspective about the important work that he does in Faculty Voice. His passion and dedication are truly inspiring. You don’t want to miss his story about the comforting power of a Sparty doll.

Far away from Malawi in Guangzhou, China, Zhiyong Xi, MSU assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, is looking at a different way to tackle malaria—by stopping it before it starts. Xi’s research, also published this week, shows that using a strain of a certain bacteria in mosquitos can interrupt the transmission of malaria via the insects to humans. (Read more about Zhiyong’s research>>)

Two approaches, two continents, one goal—eradicating a deadly disease.

I still think about that baby I saw in the ward that day. I don’t know for sure if he even had malaria, but the chances are pretty strong that he did. Did he get better? Did he survive? I won’t ever know. What I do know is that Karl Seydel and Zhiyong Xi and other Spartans are working hard every day to give babies like him and so many more a chance—a chance to get well, a chance to grow, a chance to live.

Spartans Will.

Lisa Mulcrone
Editor, MSUToday

Photo by Kurt Stepnitz


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