A team of researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have taken a different approach to treating and preventing the parasitic disease malaria. Rather than waiting for the parasite to replicate within a victim’s blood, the team attempted to target the parasite when it initially infects a person’s liver. This new method of treatment could potentially unlock the key for preventing malaria infection altogether.
Researchers extracted malaria parasites from over one million mosquitos and tested over 500,000 chemical compounds that had the potential to shut down the parasite within a person’s liver. The team was able to narrow down their list to just 631 compounds that hold promise for the development of a malaria prevention drug.
The team’s findings, published December 7th in Science, have already been made available within the scientific community.
“It’s our hope that, since we’re not patenting these compounds, many other researchers around the world will take this information and use it in their own labs and countries to drive antimalarial drug development forward,” said Elizabeth Winzeler, PhD, professor of pharmacology and drug discovery at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
Current malaria drugs only treat the symptoms after a person has become infected with the parasite. These drugs simply block the replication process within in the blood, however, they do not prevent infection nor the transmission of malaria parasites — Plasmodium falciparum or Plasmodium vivax — via mosquito bite.
After finding these 631 promising compounds by way of engineering malaria sporozoites to produce the luciferase enzyme, and then applying certain compounds to see which ones turn the luciferase enzyme off, therefore killing the sporozoite, Winzeler’s team now hopes to figure out how these compounds work to move forward in the drug production. Her team will work alongside members of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Malaria Drug Accelerator (MalDA), an international consortium focused on speeding up drug development.
“It’s difficult for many people to consistently sleep under mosquito nets or take a daily pill,” Winzeler concluded. “We’ve developed many other options for things like birth control. Why not malaria? The malaria research community has always been particularly collaborative and willing to share data and resources, and that makes me optimistic that we’ll soon get there too.”