Two-New Weapons in the War on Malaria – One Complex, One Simple

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red blood cell malariaDespite constant efforts to fight it, over 200 million people still contract malaria each year and an estimated 627,000 die from it, with most of the deaths occurring among children living in Africa. A vaccine would go a long way to controlling the problem and eventually even eradicating the disease. Although progress has been made, there are major barriers to vaccine development, so other approaches are also being taken to tackle this illness which is caused by a mosquito-borne parasite.

Malaria can be treated with pharmaceuticals, but many therapies are coming up against drug resistance. One interesting approach to get around this involves inhibiting kinases, which are enzymes that regulate steps in the malaria parasite lifecycle. Since parasite kinases are very different from human kinases, drugs can be produced that disrupt the parasite enzymes, but not the human enzymes.

An EU-funded research project produced insights into the regulatory pathways of the malaria parasite life cycle, leading to this kinases-based approach to drug development. Although promising, this approach is a complex one, which requires a commitment to more funding if it is ever to come to fruition

Another line of attack in the battle against malaria is to fight drug resistance. A cheap anti-malarial drug, chloroquine has been the “go-to” choice for treating and preventing the malady for over 65 years, but the malaria parasite has developed drug resistance to it. However, research at the Australian National University and the University of Heidelberg has revealed a weakness in the parasite protein that causes resistance. One of the researchers, Dr. Rowena Martin said, “We studied diverse versions of this protein and in all cases found that it is limited in its capacity to remove the drug from the parasite. This means malaria could once again be treated with chloroquine if it is administered twice-daily instead of just once a day.” Dr. Martin believes this simple change could be used to help millions of people who are at risk of catching malaria.

Although once prevalent across, the world, malaria is now largely confined to impoverished nations. Major gains have been made to control the disease in these areas, but a multi-pronged approach must continue to be used in the effort to wipe out this killer.

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