Date Published: 3 February 2009
Monash research breakthrough to treat malaria
A team of Monash University researchers led by Professor James Whisstock has made a major breakthrough in the international fight against malaria, which claims the life of a child across the world every 30 seconds.
The research, performed in collaboration with Professor John Dalton at the University of Technology, Sydney, provides a new approach to treating and controlling the disease that is contracted by half a billion people and causes around 1 million deaths a year.
The team, based at the Monash University ARC Centre of Excellence in Structural and Functional Microbial Genomics, has been able to deactivate the final stage of the malaria parasite's digestive machinery, effectively starving the parasite of nutrients and disabling its survival mechanism. This process of starvation leads to the death of the parasite.
Professor Whisstock said the results had laid the scientific groundwork to further develop a specific class of drugs to treat the disease.
"About forty percent of the world's population are at risk of contracting malaria. It is only early days but this discovery could one day provide treatment for some of those 2.5 billion people across the globe," Professor Whisstock said.
"Drug-resistant malaria is an ever increasing problem, meaning that there is an urgent requirement to develop new therapeutic strategies."
Researchers used the Australian Synchrotron, located adjacent to Monash University's Clayton campus. The results are published today in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences US
Lead author of the research paper, Dr Sheena McGowan, from the Monash University NHMRC program on protease systems biology said their findings prove their concept.
"We had an idea as to how malaria could be starved and we have shown this, chemically, can be done," Dr McGowan said.
"A single bite from an infected mosquito can transfer the malaria parasite into a human's blood stream. The malaria parasite must then break down blood proteins in order to obtain nutrients. Malaria carries out the first stages of digestion inside a specialised compartment called the digestive vacuole -- this can be considered to be like a stomach. However, the enzyme we have studied (known as PfA-M1), which is essential for parasite viability, is located outside the digestive vacuole meaning that it is easier to target from a drug perspective."
This breakthrough is in addition to existing malaria drug discovery research advances at Monash University. A new drug candidate which aims to provide a single dose cure, discovered by a major international project involving the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, is currently progressing to first human studies with support from the Medicines for Malaria Venture, Geneva, Switzerland.