A discovery made at the Center for Molecular Parasitology at Drexel University College of Medicine has led to a potential new treatment for malaria. The subsequent development of a drug that can kill multiple stages of the parasite that causes human malaria was part of an international study involving 16 different institutions from seven countries. The findings were recently published in Science Translational Medicine.
The center’s director, Akhil Vaidya, Ph.D., professor; Michael Mather, Ph.D., research assistant professor; and Joanne Morrisey, research instructor, all from the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, participated in the study showing that ELQ-300, an Endochin-derived drug, completely protected mice from malaria caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum. This parasite is transmitted to humans by infected female mosquitoes. It is the deadliest of five species of parasite that cause human malaria.
The Drexel team had discovered that ELQ-300 is effective because it disrupts the parasite’s mitochondrial respiration, leading to inhibition of building blocks needed for DNA synthesis. The parasite is thereby prohibited from multiplying, so it dies. The drug works only on the parasite’s mitochondria, without affecting human mitochondria. The drug is easy to make and cheap to produce, making it a potential game-changer in treating malaria. Human testing could begin in two years.
The research team was supported by Medicines for Malaria Venture, an international nonprofit foundation, and led by principal investigator Michael Riscoe, Ph.D., a professor in the Molecular Microbiology & Immunology Department at Oregon Health Sciences University. The effort is made up of an international group of researchers from the United States, Australia, Singapore and Switzerland. (The study, “Quinolone-3-Diarylethers: A New Class of Antimalarial Drug,” was published in the March 20, 2013, issue of Science Translational Medicine.)
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of Pulse, the newsletter of Drexel University College of Medicine.