Thursday, April 11, 2013

My still-lost presentation about the history of quinine

Continuing on with the theme of college finals, going back to fall of 2007 I was taking biology, my favorite subject, partly to make college easy for a biology enthusiast living in a scary (and noisy) crackhouse.
` I didn't have to dissect any dead baby kittens, thankfully -- in fact, the most intense task of the entire class was extracting genetic material from a cheese puff in order to determine whether or not it was made with Bt corn. It even barely worked!

breaky genes
Yes, this is an actual photo of electrified genetic fragments, probably
from the cheese puff, which appear to be racing one another across the gel.

I was assigned to do part of a group presentation about malaria, but as the other members of my group took up our entire time slot, there wasn't enough time for my contribution. Since then, I seem to have lost the presentation itself, although recently I came across some notes I had made for it.
` They seem interesting enough, although I'm not sure what book(s) I had taken them from:

Quinine was the first medicine known to science that cured a specific disease, one of many important coincidences in the development of modern medicine. It was not scientists who had first discovered this treatment, although they did confirm that it worked.
` According to French expeditioner Joseph de Jussieu, a Jesuit who had come down with malaria was treated by a Malactos chief with 'ayac-cara' -- bitter bark, also known as 'yarachucchu carachuuchu, 'bark of the tree for the cold of fevers'.
` We call it this tree the cinocha, which is (imperfectly) named after a real countess -- ChinĂ³cha -- who was cured of malaria in a fictitious story set around 1690.
` Jussieu warned not to call the tree 'quina nina', which he said was a native term for both cinocha and basalm trees. Because of this, useless basalm bark was distributed with cinocha, which caused much confusion among European doctors. 
On the Andes mountains, where they are found, there is an abundance of opaque mist, and venomous hornets and ants. There are torrents of water that could cause an avalanche under your feet. There were also native Americans who killed the Europeans who harvested the bark.
` There was also malaria, which probably came from the slave trade -- African mosquitos would breed in the cisterns of ships and pass on their pathogens elsewhere. (So really, the Europeans were going to South America to obtain a treatment for a disease that they themselves had introduced into the area!)
` On top of all this, there were different species and varieties of cinocha if one were to make it into the forests, one would be confronted with many different species and varieties of cinocha, which are hard to tell apart because they hybridize so much. It was the ones with the red inner bark that contained the most quinine.
After all this trouble, physicians of the 17th century were still reluctant to even consider trying it.
` One reason was because they were using the "four humors" model of medicine, and fevers were thought to be one kind of imbalance, rather than different types of diseases causing fevers. From this point of view, one medicine used to treat one type of fever makes no sense.
` Another reason was that quinine didn't lend itself well to scientific testing: It was often hard to come by, and even so could turn out to be basalm, or another type of wood doctored to look like quinine. Even if it was real cinocha bark, there was no way to tell how much quinine it contained. 
While pre-modern doctors didn't seem to know what to do at this point, cinocha bark also got to Spanish Cardinal Juan de Luco, who reportedly cured himself with it and later managed to give it away to the poor people of Rome. For this reasons, it was called 'Jesuit's bark' or 'Cardina's bark'.
` During a council in 1649, Lugo was able to tell missionary delegates about the bark, and from there they began promoting it widely, thanks to the abundant supply from Peru at the time.
The Northern Europeans ridiculed this treatment, especially since it was being so widely promoted by the Roman Jesuits, until England had a malaria epidemic and all manner of quacks began selling remedies.
` One such quack from Cambridge, named Robert Talbor, advised not to take Jesuit's bark because it could cause convulsions. Instead, he said, people should take his own remedy, "Talbor's Wonderful Secret", which supposedly allowed people to spit out the enlargement of the spleen that is caused by the disease.
` It just so happened that the wonderful secret in talbor's medicine was Jesuit's bark, along with wine and opium. No wonder it was so popular -- even King Charles II heard of Talbor the charlatan -- and his genuine cure -- in 1672, and soon the stuff was sold all over London.
` By 1681, however, Talbor died and his his secrets were exposed, thanks to Louis XIV. It wasn't until 20 years later that an Italian physician -- Francesco Torti -- scientifically tested cinocha bark and was able to confirm that it was the only known effective treatment against malaria. 
Over the next couple of centuries, a bit more was discovered about cinocha bark -- significantly that the different colored barks had different amounts of two alkaloids. One is called cinochonine, the other, more effective one is quinine sulphate.
For 250 years, people knew that cinocha bark cured malaria, without even having any clue where malaria came from. Malaria was just thought to be a 'fact of life' for anyone living in the tropics.
` Well, not everyone -- in 1848, Josiah Clark Nott noticed that malaria can occur away from swamps and hypothesized that it was carried by mosquitoes.
` Louis Daniel Beauperthuy, a French doctor who was working in CumanĂ¡, noticed that marlaia was common despite a total lack of swamps -- and plenty of mosquitoes. in 1854, he published a hypothesis that it was caused by poison of decaying animal matter in a mosquito's stomach.
` Albert Freeman Africanus King -- known for having attended to the shot Abraham Lincoln -- said in 1882 that he suspected the mosquito. He had many reasons for this, and even proposed an experiment, but no one took him that seriously. 
Years later, a British surgeon named Richard Ross discovered the mosquito-bound form of the parasite that causes malaria, just after coming down with it himself. The exhilaration of this lifted his quinine-induced depression on August 20, 1897, which he called 'Mosquito Day.'
` This parasitic discovery was the oocyte form of a protozoan called Plasmodium vivax. Nearly a year later, he observed bird malaria oocytes changing into a threadlike form, heading into a mosquito's salivary glands. It won him the Nobel Prize in 1902. 
Throughout the 1880s and 90s, scientists learned more about the parasite, including the fact that quinine only killed the feeding parasites, but not the breeding forms. 
Though there was some resistance to the idea of killing mosquitoes en masse, doing so saved thousands of lives in the building of the Panama Canal. By 1902, preventing mosquitos from breeding by filling or oiling small pools, yellow fever was gone, and malaria scarce.
` Still, it was difficult to get rid of because the gametes could still be spread by someone who has already had the disease.

And here, we come to an abrupt halt. I don't exactly have time to fact-check all of this, although I can tell you that my source was fairly science-based. Let's just say that when I saw one of my group members highlight and print out the Wikipedia page on malaria, I gasped in surprise.
` Incidentally, I do remember another classmate's source materials, because they were books by a well-known fraudster -- does the name Kevin Trudeau ring a bell? Ugh...

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