Breakthrough in malaria treatment by Australian scientists

Australian scientists have taken a huge step towards eliminating malaria and new types of cancer treatment may be next.

Australian scientists have taken a huge step towards eliminating malaria, a disease that has long outsmarted researchers.

A team from the Australian National University has solved a key piece of the puzzle about what makes malaria vulnerable to some drugs and resistant to others.

Dr Sarah Shafik of the ANU Research School of Biology explained that the biggest challenge in treating malaria was how quickly it adapted.

“The thing that makes treatment difficult is that the parasite develops resistance to all of our drugs so quickly,” he said.

“The former gold standard drug chloroquine, which has been used to treat malaria for 20 years, has failed.

“We could distribute a drug or a combination therapy and within a few years only resistance to that treatment develops and then we have to get back to the drawing board.”

Dr. Shafik and her team identified two proteins within malaria – PfMDR1 and PfCRT – that diverted the drugs from where they would have a lethal effect and concentrated them in “safe areas,” rendering them ineffective.

“We’ve known about these proteins for a long time, but what we didn’t know is how they were involved in imparting drug resistance to the parasite,” said Dr. Shafik.

A simple blood test can be done on someone with malaria to figure out what types of proteins they have.

“Once we have this information, then we would know from our data which drugs would be best to use on that particular strain of parasite that carries those specific types of proteins in order to kill the parasite,” he said.

The breakthrough could go a long way in making malaria treatment cheaper and more efficient, which in poorer countries where the disease is more prevalent remains a major obstacle.

In 2020, malaria killed around 627,000 people worldwide.

“Right now the biggest problem is just getting the right drugs to the right patient, but it takes money,” said Dr. Shafik.

“Many cases of malaria occur in Africa, where they are not doing well and it is difficult to get those people tested when needed and then quickly provide them with the right drugs.”

Groups like the Bill and the Melinda Gates Foundation are working to eradicate malaria around the world, which Dr. Shafik hopes is now a step forward.

In addition to malaria, the discovery could also help inform the development of new types of cancer treatments, the researchers hope.

“One of the malaria proteins that we characterize belongs to the same family as one of the proteins produced by human cancer cells,” said Dr Shafik.

“So with the method we have developed to characterize the malaria protein, we could apply it to the cancer protein, and if we could stop the cancer protein from pumping drugs out of the cancer cells, that would make our chemotherapy treatments much more effective. . “

Originally published as A huge step by Australian scientists towards disease eradication