Malaria is caused by infection with the parasite Plasmodium falciparum (Pf), and although the disease can be treated with anti-malarial drugs, the drugs are harsh and resistance often develops. It has been a problem in India for centuries. Current official figures for malaria indicate that there are 0.7-1.6 million confirmed cases and 400-1,000 deaths in India annually. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) malaria currently infects more than 200 million people worldwide and accounts for more than 500,000 deaths per year. Scientists have now developed a new drug that shows hope for stopping the deadly malaria in its track.
Mice studies have revealed that the new drug acts as a roadblock for malaria, curing the rodents of established infection. This treatment was not associated with obvious side effects, suggesting that the drug may also be safe and effective in humans.
In 2011, a group of researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK discovered that a human protein called basigin was required for all strains of Pf to invade red blood cells, an essential stage of the parasite's life cycle. Antibodies that block the interaction between basigin and the parasite protein PfRH5 were known to block Pf infection in culture, and the Sanger Institute research group has now developed a nontoxic anti-basigin drug (called Ab-1) that cured mice of established blood infection.
Basigin has previously been implicated in the progression of certain cancers and in graft-versus-host disease in transplant patients, and drugs that block the protein have already proven safe and effective in patients and are already in clinical use.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.