UIU students learn of the search for a cure for malaria

Dr. Patrick Duffy, chief of the Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology (LMIV), attended a Biology class and a student Q & A session last week while he was visiting the Upper Iowa University Fayette campus to celebrate the inauguration of his older brother, Dr. Bill Duffy as the 21st President of Upper Iowa. LMIV was commissioned in 2009 to study and develop malaria vaccines, and is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A scientist with a passion for teaching, Patrick Duffy said he did not want to miss an opportunity to further Upper Iowa students’ knowledge of malaria and human evolution.

As a young man at West Point, Patrick Duffy became interested in working in Africa, and later, after medical school and while doing his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he sought placement researching malaria and its effects. He had the opportunity to travel to Cambodian refugee camps to study infectious tropical diseases.

That journey was Patrick Duffy’s first real experience seeing a community suffer because of a disease. He said the experience triggered a chain reaction within him, and he later embarked on the path to study, and hopefully one day, cure malaria.

“You see people suffer and you want to take that away for them,” he said. “From the scientific point of view, you want to study it and figure out how to cure it.”

Patrick Duffy was an internal medicine doctor at Fort Benning, Ga., and served as part of a Forward Surgical Team during Desert Storm, for which he was awarded a Combat Medic Badge by the US Army. After the war, he sought out a program that would train him for research. He said he was lucky to have a great mentor at NIH during that time that impacted his career path and the rest of his life. This impressed on him the importance to mentor young people who are interested in science.

Since 1991, Patrick Duffy has devoted his life to studying malaria and its effects on human health. For four years he lived in Kenya conducting research. He has also conducted multi-year projects in Tanzania and Mali. “Our research emphasizes pregnant women and children, the populations most susceptible to malaria morbidity and mortality,” he said.

The greatest accomplishment to come out of the studies, according to Patrick Duffy, is determining why pregnant women are so susceptible to the effects of malaria, and he and his colleagues feel confident that they have now moved closer to developing a vaccine that prevents malaria during pregnancy.

According to the World Health Organization, at least 219 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide in 2010. Of those who are infected, some 660,000 died. About 90 percent of the deaths were in Africa, the most affected continent.

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