The discovery of a new drug by a team of scientists in the UK has offered hope in preventing the spread of malaria by killing the parasite at all stages of its life cycle and also treat people suffering from the deadly disease.
The findings were released by an international team of scientists led by Professor Andrew Tobin of the University of Glasgow and published in the journal Science on Friday. The drug can kill the Plasmodium mosquito, responsible for causing the disease, at all three stages of its life cycle in the human body – when it is in the liver, in red blood cells, as well as preventing breeding of the parasite.
The disease is spread among humans through the bite of a mosquito. The parasite then grows in the liver and in red blood cells. The parasites can also change in the blood to take on a male and female form, which can re-infect mosquitoes when they bite and suck blood from infected people.
“We are tremendously excited about these new findings, and hope they pave the way for the first step in the eradication of malaria,” Tobin, professor of Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Glasgow, said in a press release on Thursday. “Our work has shown that by killing the parasites at the various stages of parasite development, we have not only discovered a potential cure for malaria but also a way of stopping the spread of malaria from person to mosquito which can then infect other people,” he said.
The new drug works by stopping the activity of an essential protein called PfCLK3, which controls the production/activity of other proteins that are involved in keeping the parasite alive. By blocking this activity, the drugs can effectively kill the parasite, which not only prevents it from spreading, but also holds the possibility of treating the disease in humans too.
“We have found a way to stop the transmission of the parasite by killing the form of the parasite that infects mosquitoes, thereby preventing the parasite from being transferred from one person to another,” Professor Andy Waters, Director of the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Parasitology at Glasgow and a co-author of the study, said. The study was funded by Wellcome, The Medical Research Council (MRC) and Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation.
The work was done in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline, the University of California, University of Leicester, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the University of Oxford and The MRC Unit the Gambia. Malaria, a mosquito-borne infectious disease, currently affects over 200 million people, and kills nearly half a million people – mostly children – every year.
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