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Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University Discover Malaria Achilles Heel

The experiments include seeing how well each of the 12 compounds works, for how long, and whether resistance develops with any of the promising agents

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Infected mosquito. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
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September 10, 2016: Scientists appear to have discovered malaria Achilles heel, a weakness common to the multiple stages of malaria infection. In doing so, they have found a compound that cured mice of the disease.

Once it’s entered the body through the bite of an infected mosquito, the malaria parasite, P. falciparum, behaves as a unique organism as it goes through three phases during its life cycle. Experts say most treatments are aimed at only one stage or another. Over time, the parasite can become resistant to therapy, sometimes as quickly as within one year.

But researchers at the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have identified a single protein target that appears to be the disease’s weakness, according to senior researcher Stuart Schreiber, a founding member of the biomedical institution.

Malaria Infection. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Malaria Infection.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Malaria protein

“We did discover a novel protein that’s made by the parasite, that’s needed for all three phases of its life cycle, and a series of novel compounds that potently inhibit this protein,” he said. “And we could show in an infected animal that we could kill the parasite in all three phases.”

Schreiber and colleagues published their findings in the journal Nature.

After discovering the protein, researchers screened a unique library of 100,000 small molecules, from which they synthesized about a dozen compounds that they tested in infected mice. The molecules appear to stop the production of this protein in all of malaria’s life stages, effectively killing the disease.

The mice were disease-free for a month, a length of time considered to be a cure. When they tried to infect other mice with the blood of the treated rodents, the animals did not become infected with malaria.

The compound that scientists tested was a one-time oral treatment. Schreiber was quick to caution that what works in a mouse is not necessarily effective in humans. But he is hopeful.

“I am the eternal optimist,” he said. “On the other hand, I do know that what’s ahead is extremely challenging and full of unknowns that can only be addressed by marching forward and running the key experiments.”

The experiments include seeing how well each of the 12 compounds works, for how long, and whether resistance develops with any of the promising agents.

In theory, Schreiber said a drug that works in all three stages of malaria could be taken at any point in the disease cycle, as a treatment and even as a way to prevent the disease.

The researchers note that individuals can remain infectious even while undergoing treatment. So their infection can be spread to someone else through a mosquito bite.

Information about the anti-malaria compounds is being made freely available to other researchers through an online database. The library contains compounds designed and housed at the Broad Institute that are not usually found in the arsenals of pharmaceutical companies.

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Malaria infects over 200 million people each year. Once it has infected a human host, the malaria parasite evolves through a number of unique stages, from initial blood infection to liver infiltration where the parasite matures and reenters the blood stream.

The parasite then goes on to infect and destroy red blood cells, releasing thousands of daughter parasites that invade other blood cells, continuing the cycle of reproduction and infection.

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It is during this later blood stage when symptoms of malaria occur, including very high fever, overwhelming sweating, debilitating nausea and diarrhea. Over half a million people do not survive, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa.

The research by Schreiber and colleagues was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A Japanese drug company, Eisai, has shown an interest in helping to further develop the experimental malaria treatment. (IANS)

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Scientists Identified 80 Genes That Trigger Depression

Nearly 80 genes that could be linked to depression have been identified, a finding that adds to the evidence that it is partly a genetic disorder, say scientists. Depression, a common mental disorder, is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

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Suspension may lead to depression.
Suspension may lead to depression. Pixabay

Nearly 80 genes that could be linked to depression have been identified, a finding that adds to the evidence that it is partly a genetic disorder, say scientists.

Depression, a common mental disorder, is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

According to the latest estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18 per cent between 2005 and 2015.

“This study identifies genes that potentially increase our risk of depression, adding to the evidence that it is partly a genetic disorder,” said lead author David Howard, research fellow at the University of Edinburgh.

Some of the pinpointed genes are known to be involved in the function of synapses, tiny connectors that allow brain cells to communicate with each other through electrical and chemical signals, the researchers said.

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Old Woman. pixabay

The study could help explain why some people may be at a higher risk of developing the condition as well as help researchers develop drugs to tackle mental health conditions.

“The findings also provide new clues to the causes of depression and we hope it will narrow down the search for therapies that could help people living with the condition,” Howard added.

For the study, published in Nature Communications, the team scanned the genetic code of 300,000 people to identify areas of DNA that could be linked to depression.

The WHO has identified strong links between depression and substance use disorders and diabetes and heart disease.

Studies Show: Elderly With Symptoms of Depression Are More Prone to Memory Problems

Depression is also an important risk factor for suicide, which claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year.

Lack of support for people with mental disorders, coupled with a fear of stigma, prevent many from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives. (IANS)