New Weapon In The Fight Against Malaria
As malaria-causing protozoan parasites seem to toughen up against even the best medication, scientists have found a new weapon to combat them.
Originally intended to fight cancer, laboratory tests have shown that the compound also disrupts the "genetic programme" of the parasite.
This "genetic programme" helps the parasite to survive within the Anopheles mosquitoes that transmit the disease, as well as within a human body.
A key member of the team of scientists researching the compound, Assistant Professor Zbynek Bozdech of Nanyang Technological University's School of Biological Sciences in Singapore, likened the process to erasing a computer storage disk.
"If you have a hard disk and you place a large magnet on it, you erase the programme. Similarly, the compound confuses the parasite and it can't recover." When that happens, the parasite dies.
Describing laboratory results as "better than we expected", Asst Prof Bozdech expects to commercialise the compound with a pharceutical company after a year or two of further research.
The team also managed to isolate a part of the parasite that instigates the production of human anti-bodies against malaria. Potentially, this may be the key to manufacturing the first malaria vaccine.
Their discoveries - which are published in the July issue of an American journal, the Public Library Of Science Pathogens - are critical because modern medicine is starting to lose its efficacy against the parasite.
Malaria afflicts about 40% of the world's population, according to the World Health Organisation, the vast majority of whom are from the poorest countries. The WHO also states that of the 500 million people who fall ill to the disease every year, one million of them die.
Sources: The Straits Times, The World Health Organisation
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