Damned Parasites!

Damned Parasites!


Our project 'Damned parasites' was the most supported at the Fira de Recerca en Directe 2017

In 2015 alone, there were 211 million cases, which caused over 400,000 deaths—mainly among children under five years of age. We are talking about malaria, a disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite and transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes.  

This was the opening salvo in our workshop on malaria at the 15th Fira de Recerca en Directe 2017, a science fair for secondary school students that took place in Barcelona from 3 to 6 May last. The fair was organised by the Science Culture Unit of the Barcelona Science Park (Parc Científic de Barcelona) with the support of the ”la Caixa” Foundation.

The aim of this outreach event is to bring research to the public and to encourage scientific vocations among young people

The aim of this outreach event is to bring research to the public and to encourage scientific vocations among young people. It provides a great opportunity for students to talk to young researchers and to grapple with the enigmas of science, using experiments and laboratory techniques. The students learn to do small experiments, to work with research apparatus and to pose questions and look for answers using the scientific method.

This year, the event’s organisers allowed the public to vote on which science project would definitely be included in the fair. Out of the 650 votes received, the project that received the most support from the public was “Damned parasites. Studying malaria” proposed by ISGlobal’s Malaria Research Group. This vote secured our presence at the fair.

The workshop provided us with an opportunity to tell young students about the importance of research in fighting malaria and to inform them about the ways we can investigate drug effectiveness as well as disease prevention and treatment. We received more than 100 visits a day at our stand from students and teachers who wanted to do the research activities and find out more about the disease.

The activity we designed was based on a simple question: “Can we fight malaria with an aspirin?”. After listening to an explanation of the life cycle of the parasite and learning about the symptoms of malaria and the problems associated with the disease, the participants did an experiment to test four different drugs, one of which was aspirin.

After donning gloves, the students prepared microscopic slides with infected blood and stained the samples to examine them under a microscope.  This allowed them to observe the effectiveness of the drugs they were testing and to see the different forms of the parasite in blood.

From this activity they learned about drug resistance, strategies involving combination therapies, and the need for more research to develop an effective vaccine. These topics were discussed by the participants during each session. They were also given an opportunity to ask questions about their doubts, to comment on their findings, and to answer the question proposed in the activity in an engaging and interactive way.

We hope that all the workshop participants enjoyed the day as much as we did and that we will see each other again next year!

We would like to thank the Blood and Tissue Bank, which supplied the blood samples used in the workshop, the Pompeu Fabra University for their support, and the ISGlobal Malaria Group for supplying the microscopes we used in the workshop. We would also like to thank everyone who worked to make the workshop possible and publicised it and all the people who came and took an interest in our activity and wanted to learn a bit more about this disease.