Tukkies discovers new chemical that has potential to eliminate malaria
Johannesburg - The University of Pretoria (UP) has made a breakthrough in malaria research after new potent chemical compounds that have the potential to treat and eliminate the disease were discovered.
Last month, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) warned that, with special attention being paid to Covid-19, malaria care was declining.
The institute said it was mandatory to test anyone presenting with flu-like symptoms, especially those who live in a malaria endemic area or have travelled to those areas.
“Regardless of suspected Covid-19 conditions, pending Covid-19 tests or even a positive Covid-19 test, using a rapid diagnostic test or blood smear microscopy can obtain results urgently. Malaria should be considered in a patient with a progressively worsening febrile illness of unknown cause even if (there is) no travel history to a malaria endemic area,” NICD said.
UP announced on Monday that the university’s Professor Lyn-Marie Birkholtz in biochemistry and South African research chairperson in Sustainable Malaria Control was part of an international team that published this discovery in the journal Nature Communications on January 11.
“The breakthrough involves the identification of unique compounds that are able to kill several stages of the malaria-causing parasite and can block the transmission of the parasite between humans and mosquitoes,” Birkholtz said.
In South Africa, the deadly human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum occurs and these parasites are transmitted to humans by female Anopheles mosquitoes.
The only means of killing the parasite itself is to use chemical drugs, according to UP, but new anti-malarial drugs are needed to address the growing concern of antimalarial drug resistance. Birkholtz described the parasite as a “shape shift” because it can take on multiple forms while inside the human body and some of the forms cause disease.
“To eliminate malaria, it is essential that we have the necessary tools to kill all these different forms of the parasite. We can then cure patients of the disease but, importantly, also block the malaria transmission cycle. This is the only way to achieve malaria elimination,” she said.
UP said the team looked for new chemical compounds that could block the malaria transmission cycle but were also new so that the parasite did not have resistance against them.
“The team runs a unique research platform on the African continent, in which all of these stages of the malaria parasite can be produced in the lab and be used to test chemical compounds. The team discovered compounds that kill the disease-causing form and compounds that blocked the parasite from infecting mosquitoes in the lab,” the university said.
The two potent compounds target processes crucial to the parasite’s survival with one as a clinical candidate against tuberculosis, blocking cell membrane synthesis (the combination of components). The other is an anti-cancer candidate that targets epigenetic mechanisms (mechanisms that control cell fate beyond the genome, all genetic material of an organism).