Researchers at the University of Melbourne have discovered a new method to combat malaria. According to the scientists, this new method could offer an effective treatment for the millions of people infected around the world every year. The findings of the study were published in Science journal on Thursday.
The team of scientists has identified an anti-malarial compound, ML901, which inhibits the malaria parasite but does not harm mammalian—human or other mammals’—cells. According to the researchers, the ML901 compound effectively made the parasite the agent of its own demise, underpinning it potency and selectivity.
“ML901 works by an unusual reaction-hijacking mechanism. Imagine a stealth weapon that can be used to launch a self-destruct attack on your vehicle—slamming on the brakes and cutting the engine. ML901 finds a particular chink in the machinery that the malaria parasite uses to generate the proteins needed to reproduce itself and stops it doing so. While there is much work to be done to fine-tune what we’ve discovered, these results are really encouraging in the search for new antimalarials,” Co-lead author Professor Leann Tilley, from the Bio21 Institute at the University of Melbourne said.
Reportedly, research labs across five continents conducted tests using molecules provided by Takeda Pharmaceuticals during which the ML901 compound was identified.
The scientists revealed that once ML901 entered the parasite, it attached itself to an amino acid and attacked the protein synthesis machinery from the inside, rapidly grinding the parasite to a halt. The molecular structure of human cells means they are not susceptible to attack by ML901, the scientists claim.
While conducting the tests using both human blood cultures and an animal model of malaria, the reserchers found ML901 killed malaria parasites that resisted to currently used drugs and showed rapid and prolonged action resulting in excellent parasite killing.
At least 200 million new malaria infections are diagnosed worldwide, causing more than 600,000 deaths in Africa and Southeast Asia every year. According to reports, over the past 50 years, ever increasing levels of resistance to antimalarials has led to an impending crisis, with breakthrough drugs desperately needed. The scientists also claimed that based on these findings the team was ready to pursue the development of new antimalarial drug candidates.