A new drug developed by Australian researchers seeks to starve the malaria parasite to death. And that could be a major breakthrough in the fight against the disease that claims the life of a child every 30 seconds across the world.
A team of Monash University researchers led by Professor James Whisstock, at the Monash University ARC Centre of Excellence in Structural and Functional Microbial Genomics, Melbourne, has been able to deactivate the final stage of the malaria parasite's digestive machinery, effectively starving the parasite of nutrients and disabling its survival mechanism. This process of starvation leads to the death of the parasite.
Professor Whisstock said the results had laid the scientific groundwork to further develop a specific class of drugs to treat the disease.
"About forty per cent of the world's population are at risk of contracting malaria. It is only early days but this discovery could one day provide treatment for some of those 2.5 billion people across the globe," Professor Whisstock said.
"Drug-resistant malaria is an ever increasing problem, meaning that there is an urgent requirement to develop new therapeutic strategies."
The research was carried out in collaboration with Professor John Dalton at the University of Technology, Sydney.
The results are published today in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences US
Lead author of the research paper, Dr Sheena McGowan, from the Monash University National Health and Medical Research Council program on protease systems biology, said their findings prove their concept.
"We had an idea as to how malaria could be starved and we have shown this, chemically, can be done," Dr McGowan said.
"A single bite from an infected mosquito can transfer the malaria parasite into a human's blood stream. The malaria parasite must then break down blood proteins in order to obtain nutrients. Malaria carries out the first stages of digestion inside a specialised compartment called the digestive vacuole -- this can be considered to be like a stomach. However, the enzyme we have studied (known as PfA-M1), which is essential for parasite viability, is located outside the digestive vacuole meaning that it is easier to target from a drug perspective."
This breakthrough is in addition to existing malaria drug discovery research advances at Monash University. A new drug candidate which aims to provide a single dose cure, discovered by a major international project involving the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, is currently progressing to first human studies with support from the Medicines for Malaria Venture, Geneva, Switzerland.