Date Published: 12 October 2006
Scientist receives prestigious award for malaria breakthrough - Liverpool
A University of Liverpool scientist will be recognised by the Royal Society this week for advancing discoveries into new treatments for malaria.
Dr Alexis Nzila will be presented with the Royal Society Pfizer Award for his research into the similarities between cancer and malaria and his contribution to the development of possible new treatments for malaria.
Both cancer cells and the malaria parasite multiply readily and rely upon the availability of vitamins called folates in order to grow. By comparing the role of these vitamins in cancer cells to their function in malaria, Dr Nzila was able to understand their function more clearly – particularly their role in causing resistance to a popular malaria drug.
Fansidar, an antifolate treatment, is used to inhibit the production of folate molecules to prevent malaria from multiplying. The malaria parasite, however, can develop quick resistance to the drug, making it difficult to treat the disease.
Dr Nzila said:
“ Working in Kenya, where 26,000 children die of the disease each year, we found that resistance to Fansidar was a result of the parasite’s ability to change amino acids in the enzymes that the drug targets. By monitoring changes in the enzyme genes, we found we could predict whether a parasite would be sensitive or resistant to Fansidar.”
The results of this work were used by the Kenyan Ministry Of Health when they decided to withdraw Fansidar as the first line of treatment for malaria. Dr Nzila, however, found a new way of treating the disease by using a non-toxic compound called probenecid that can be used in combination with Fansidar to reverse the parasite’s ability to resist drug treatment. The drug has been successfully used to treat children in Nigeria.
Dr Nzila, who works for the University’s Department of Pharmacology and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and is based at the Kenyan Medical Research Institute in Kilifi, has also provided evidence that low and non-toxic antifolate anticancer drugs, such as methotrexate could be used in combination with folate molecules to treat malaria.
The Royal Society Pfizer Award will allow further research to be conducted in this area
Malaria is an infectious disease that is widespread in many tropical regions of the world and particularly prevalent in young children in Sub-Saharan Africa. The disease in humans is caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes that invade and consume the red blood cells of its host, leading to fever, anaemia and, in severe cases, death. Techniques to control the disease include insecticides to kill mosquitoes, nets to prevent mosquito bites and malaria drug treatments.
Source: Liverpool University (England, UK).