Anti-malarials bite back

03 September 2010
Posted by Chris Smith.

A new anti-malarial agent has been discovered that may provide an alternative treatment for the disease which kills over 800 000 people each year, many of them children. Given that strains of malaria are now emerging that are resistant to the drugs we use today, this discovery is a timely advance.Plasmodium falciparumA team, led by Matthias Rottmann from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, tested, in vitro, the effectiveness of around 12 000 compounds in killing the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria. Among those tested, only 275 showed any effectiveness but one class - the spiroindolones - were stand-out favourites.

One new spiroindolone compound - NITD609 - was able to clear the disease in mice infected with the rodent equivalent of malaria, even with just a single, high dose. If clinical trials in humans were to prove as effective, this new treatment could help to drastically reduce the death roll. Since malaria is most prevalent in regions of the world where access to health care can be poor, the ability to treat the infection with a single dose could literally be a lifesaver.

The group was also able to predict how Plasmodium might evolve resistance to their new drug by growing cultures of parasite with NITD609 for 3 months and investigating genetic changes that had occurred. Drug resistance is a huge problem in the fight against disease, so this powerful knowledge could allow us to stay one-step ahead of the malaria parasite should the drug make it into clinical use.

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