Malaria research earns Perse student illustrious award

Versha Wahid (Lower Sixth) has achieved a prestigious Gold CREST Award for her in-depth investigation into eradicating malaria.

She spent part of last summer in the lab at the Cambridge University Department of Pathology helping with their research in the area before putting together her project for the CREST Award scheme.

Versha said she had become aware of the scheme, run by the British Science Association, after hearing about the success of fellow Perse students Sourish Sharma and Kuan Kuan Lin (both Upper Sixth) in earning a Gold CREST Award last year with their research into impact craters.

“After my GCSEs, I knew I had quite a long summer and thought this would be a good time to do some research,” she said.

“I spent a long time contacting university outreach departments and was really fortunate to be granted a placement at the Cambridge University Department of Pathology. They were looking at controlling or eradicating malaria, which was something I was interested in anyway.

“Malaria is one of the most burdening global health challenges and I’m really interested in medicine, so I wanted to do a project that was scientific and would have a wide-scale impact on people’s lives for the better.”

While in the lab, Versha aimed to identify a drug that had the potential to block the transmission of the malaria-causing parasite plasmodium falciparum between mosquitoes to reduce the number of the insects that could pass the disease on to humans.

Despite a “disheartening” setback with the first drug she tested having no effect, she made a breakthrough with her next piece of work – an ookinete conversion assay.

Versha said: “The way I shortlisted it was by looking at drugs that had similar qualities to what I wanted it to achieve. I found from my research this drug that was found to inhibit replication in the liver transmission stages of other malaria parasites. I wanted to reapply that into the sexual transmission stages because we were trying to stop onward transmission and that worked very well.

“I was proud to be able to identify this and I think it’s something that can now be taken into further research.”

Following her lab placement, Versha wrote up her findings, highlighting the current scope of anti-malarial transmission interventions and considering ways they could be improved.

She said: “I feel like I learned huge amounts from this project. A big part of that came from balancing it alongside my A level studies, which was quite difficult to do at first. However, I became more adept with managing my time and scheduling work for my project alongside my studies and other commitments.

“I’ve also been very used to having material just taught to me directly, so it was helpful to go out and do my own research practically and from reading journal articles. There were a lot of complex scientific articles I came across and it took time to teach myself from those, so I think that was a beneficial skill.

“It was a gruelling process at times, but doing the CREST Award was so rewarding. I’m glad I did it not only because of what I learned, but also the contribution I’ve been able to make to the field of research and the fact it has direct and indirect implications now because the drug I identified can be taken to further stages of development.”

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