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Fluorescence in Medicine | Malaria | Atabrine | SSRI Research | Goldwater Memorial Hospital | National Heart Institute


At the time, malaria killed close to 3 million people each year and infected millions more.

In March 1942 the Japanese army took control of the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). In doing so, they cut off the rest of the world's supply of the malaria treatment quinine, harvested for hundreds of years from the bark of the Chinchona tree. At the time, malaria killed close to 3 million people each year and infected millions more. The disease was debilitating to U.S. Army forces in tropical regions.
The United States government responded by developing a major program to develop new drugs. Through dozens of universities, hospitals, and laboratories the government tested close to 15,000 potential compounds during the war. Government doctors used federal and state prisoners as well as lab animals such as ducks, dogs, and canaries for their tests. Syphilis patients, for whom malarial fever served as a cure, were a major source of experimental subjects.


Malaria is caused by a parasite that gets into the red blood cells and multiplies, causing the cells to rupture and the body to respond with a fever. For an antimalarial to work, it must intercept the parasite's life cycle by reaching the parasite in the patient's blood. The drug has to build up in the patient's blood until it has killed all the trouble-causing parasites.

By the spring of 1943, doctors at Goldwater had presented the army with new dosage rules for Atabrine, which had already been used in the place of quinine but with previously poor results. They also developed new drugs such as Chloroquine. Used for several decades, Chloroquine has been largely replaced by new drug compounds because the malarial parasites in regions such as Southeast Asia, portions of South America, and much of Africa became resistant to the drug. Organizations such as Roll Back Malaria and the Medicines for Malaria Venture, co-sponsored by several public and private international groups, fund research into new drugs for especially resistant areas.

Life cycle of the malaria parasite

Click on the image above to see the life cycle of the malaria parasite in the human body
Image courtesy of the Medical Arts and Photography Branch, NIH)


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