New drug to stop malaria parasite from multiplying found

A new drug that aids malaria parasite from multiplying in the human body has been discovered by a team of Australian researchers.

The drug that looks like a vitamin takes the place of Vitamin B1 or Thiamine that helps the malaria parasite in spreading and stops multiplication of the parasite.

Initiated by pharmacologist Kevin Saliba and his colleagues from the Australian National University, the research has found that just like humans, malaria parasites also need vitamins to grow and multiply.

“Thiamine (vitamin B1) is converted in cells to a cofactor, which then binds a number of enzymes involved in energy production. We can target the pathways by which the parasite takes up the vitamin and metabolizes it. These pathways can serve as drug targets,” Saliba said.

Drug impacted human metabolism

For the present study, the researchers used an analogue of thiamine which looks similar to the vitamin but cannot actually be used in energy production as a probe drug. They studied the action of pathway of two enzymes called oxoglutarate dehydrogenase and pyruvate dehydrogenase.

“In an invitro experiment, we found that the parasite metabolized the analogue into a cofactor which binds to the enzymes, but they found evidence that the analogue was inhibiting one of the enzymes. That’s consistent with the drug having some toxicity,” said Saliba.

According to the researchers, the so-called drug could also have an impact on metabolism of humans involving energy formation and so the drug needs to be carefully designed.

“The idea is that you come up with a drug that would selectively target the parasite pathway. We would have to rely on slight differences between the human and parasite thiamine metabolism pathways,” said Saliba.

Drugs selectively targeting parasite pathway invite resistance

The anti-malaria medications that are available in the market are selectively targeting parasite pathway and the parasites develop a resistance for these and so they are not effective.

“The malaria parasite has become resistant to just about all the drugs we’ve used against it. It is exciting to have one drug that is metabolized in the parasite that targets multiple enzymes in energy metabolism,” said the lead author.

The research also highlights that as this new anti-malarial drug attacks several pathways, it is not easy to develop a resistance easily and hence it could be an effective drug in controlling the malaria parasite.

As per the stats provided by the World Health Organization, over 3.3 billion people are at a risk of developing malaria, which is almost half the world.