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Magnets Against Malaria

By Kathy A Svitil
Jul 1, 2000 5:00 AMNov 12, 2019 4:50 AM


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Malaria killed more than 1 million people in 1998. Henry Lai, a biologist at the University of Washington, thinks he's come up with an effective way to treat the disease using nothing more than a couple of loops of wire and the current from a wall outlet.

It's not as ludicrous as it sounds. Plasmodia, the parasites that cause malaria, are filled with stacks of heme, iron-rich molecules left over from the parasites' bloody meals. A low-intensity, oscillating magnetic field, Lai found, shakes the stacks and sets them spinning. "These are like small bar magnets. When they spin they can rupture cell membranes and damage organelles, killing the cells," says Lai.

Effective drugs against malaria are often in short supply in developing countries. If magnetic therapy works as well in practice as in theory, it might be a low-cost alternative. "You could buy some wire from Radio Shack and put a coil around the ceiling and another coil on the floor, and then all you have to do is plug it into an electrical outlet," he explains. Regular 12-hour rests between the coils could keep malaria parasites in check.

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