Scientists identify possible malaria treatment candidates

Aug. 25, 2014 @ 05:47 PM

A Duke University scientist and collaborators have identified compounds -- including some that are already being tested as potential cancer treatments -- as possible treatments for malaria.
Duke University assistant professor Emily Derbyshire and her colleagues have identified more than 30 enzyme-blocking molecules that curb malaria before symptoms start.
By focusing on treatments that act early before a person is infected and feels sick, the researchers hope to give malaria –- especially drug-resistant strains –- less time to spread, the release stated.
The findings of their work have been published online and are scheduled to appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal ChemBioChem.
Malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite that spreads from person to person through mosquito bites.
When an infected mosquito bites, parasites in the mosquito’s saliva first make their way to the victim’s liver. They grow and multiply into thousands of new parasites before they invade red blood cells. That’s the stage of the disease that triggers malaria’s characteristic fevers, headaches, chills and sweats.
Most efforts to find safe, effective, low-cost drugs for malaria have focused on the later stage of the infection when symptoms are the worst.
But Derbyshire and her team are testing chemical compounds to see if they can identify ones that inhibit malaria during the short window when the parasite is still restricted to the liver, before symptoms start.
Using a strain of malaria that primarily infects rodents, Derbyshire and Jon Clardy of Harvard Medical School tested 1,358 compounds for their ability to keep parasites in the liver in check in test tubes and in mice.
They identified 31 compounds that inhibit malaria growth without harming the host. Several of the compounds are currently in clinical trials to treat cancers like leukemia and myeloma.
The research was supported by Duke University, Harvard Medical School and the National Institutes of Health.
“It used to be that researchers were lucky if they could identify one or two promising compounds at a time; now with advances in high-throughput screening technology we can explore thousands at once and identify many more,” said Derbyshire, an assistant professor in the Duke Departments of Chemistry and Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, in a statement.