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April 23, 2014

Springing toward discovery

April 23, 2014

Ahhh…I leaned back in my chair and let the sun hit my face. Finally, spring had sprung. During the months and months of unrelenting ice storms, power outages, polar vortexes and blizzards, this is what I had been waiting for. The temperature hit 70 degrees, the birds were chirping, a lovely breeze was blowing and flowers were pushing through the soil. This was bliss.

Except what the heck was that? No way. NO WAY. Seriously? There was no way that a mosquito actually bit me on the very first day I bared my pasty white legs to the elements. And yet, there it was. The telltale itchy red bump smack dab in the middle of my shin. Come on! How is that even fair? We went from frostbite to bug bites in the blink of an eye—a soul-sucking winter to bloodsucking pests in a matter of days.


As I scratched my bite (I know I’m not supposed to but I just have to) I thought about how annoying it was. And then I thought about how lucky I am. Sitting here in Michigan, what is a mosquito bite other than small spot and an annoying itch?

Yet for 3.6 billion people, more than half of the world’s population, a simple mosquito bite can mean malaria or dengue fever. Every single minute, a child dies from cerebral malaria in Africa—every minute. Let that sink in. One million lives are lost to the disease every year.

This Friday is World Malaria Day, offering a chance to shine a light on this very serious and deadly disease.

We don’t think about it much here in the United States, but we should. How do you ignore something that attacks so many people?

MSU’s Terrie Taylor isn’t ignoring this ancient disease she calls the “Voldemort of parasites.” For nearly three decades, she has been researching malaria, spending half of each year in Malawi where the disease hits hard. She and her colleagues are making progress finding new treatments. There is no doubt she is literally saving lives. Read the latest MSUTODAY FEATURE, Making Malaria History, to learn more about malaria and Taylor’s work.

Malaria and dengue fever aren’t the only diseases that mosquitoes can spread. Across the globe, cases of West Nile virus are on the rise. A clue to the disease being in an area is often infected birds.

Jen Cordes Owen, an expert in the ecology of zoonotic diseases, is researching the role of wild birds in the transmission and spread of diseases that are borne by animals but transmissible to humans, like West Nile and the bird flu. Read her FACULTY VOICE: Superspreaders of Infectious Disease, to learn more about her research.

University researchers like Taylor and Owen are key to solving the challenging problems the world is facing. Another key is training tomorrow’s researchers.

Like Craig Pearson, a triple major in neuroscience, biochemistry and molecular biology, and English, who has already been immersed in scientific research as an undergraduate student. Pearson is specifically interested in treatments for blindness and examining brain activity in people as they read literature. Watch the video in his STUDENT VIEW: Brain Storm, to learn more about this impressive young man.

The next time you swat at a mosquito or scratch a bite, pause for just a second. Think about the lives impacted by malaria, dengue or West Nile. Think about the research going on at MSU and be grateful for those researchers who are out to change the world.

Spartans Will.


Lisa Mulcrone
Editor, MSUToday


Photo by Derrick L. Turner



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