Could a forgotten Nazi version of an insecticide help fight malaria?

  • Oct 19, 2019
  • Sydney Morning Herald

"It's exciting and desperately needed," said Duane Gubler, an emeritus professor in the emerging infectious diseases program at Duke University in the US and the National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School. He was not involved in the study.

But will anyone today risk the time and money needed to determine whether DFDT could be a safe and effective tool against malaria as well as other mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, dengue and yellow fever?

"Donors, governments, they just don't want the backlash, even if it's not wholly justified," said Bart Kahr, Ward's colleague at NYU and an author of the paper.

The effectiveness of DDT, an abbreviation for dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethan, as an insecticide was first discovered in 1939 by Paul Hermann Muller, a Swiss chemist. His company, J.R. Geigy, in Basel, patented the compound.

DDT is what is known as a contact insecticide. "The insects have to walk on the crystals in order to die," Kahr said. After DDT is absorbed through an insect's feet, it binds to nerve cells, causing them to become stuck in the "on" position, firing continuously. The compound does not have that effect in mammals.