Could this be the Beginning of the End of Malaria in PNG?

There is no vaccine for malaria, it can only be treated through preventative medication.

If you’re a Papua New Guinean, it’s more than likely that during some point in your life you have been treated malaria. I remember once walking down Los Angeles Main Street and seeing somebody wearing a black shirt that boasted in white print ‘Malaria Sucks’. I asked the teen wearing it if he had contracted malaria – he said “no, but it’s a cool shirt“.

I consider myself a ‘malaria veteren’. I’ve easily had it more than a 100 times and even in some cases have had to convince the doctor treating me that my symptoms are malarial due to the fact that they have rarely diagnosed the parasite. Quinine and chloroquine, the medication for ‘malaria dummies’ as I term them, no longer work on my body. At the moment I use artesenuate and I’m dreading the day the protozoan parasite builds its own resistance to my use of that drug.

So, it was with great interest that I read the transcript of the interview from the ABC’s PM National Radio Show describing how Australian scientist may have discovered a new treatement for malaria. Here is the transcript:

MARK COLVIN: Malaria is one of the world’s biggest killers. Hundreds of millions of people are infected. Each year, more than a million die, many of them children under the age of five. What’s more, there are growing fears that the disease is becoming resistant to the available drug treatments. Now a group of Australian scientists say they’ve made a discovery that could lead to new and more effective drugs.

Timothy McDonald reports.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Malaria passes from one person to another through infected mosquitoes. Once it’s in the body, it multiplies in the liver, and invades red blood cells. Then come the headaches, the nausea and the vomiting. Without treatment, it will disrupt the blood supply to vital organs and can even cause death.

Professor James Whisstock from Monash University says the most effective way of killing the malaria parasite may be to starve it.

JAMES WHISSTOCK: Malaria, like any other, if you like, organism or parasite needs sustenance, needs a food source. And malaria’s food source is blood and essentially the malaria parasite can break down blood proteins which it needs to thrive and reproduce and what we’re targeting is the final stage of that digestive process.

So basically we’re putting if you like a gastric band on it. And we’ve used structural biology and drug design to develop an approach to basically inhibiting the malaria’s digestive machinery.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Professor Whisstock is leading a team of researchers based at several Australian Universities who hope that this discovery may lead to new treatment options.

Several drugs are already used to treat the illness, but there’s increasing concern about drug resistance. He says this new approach may prove to be more effective.

The Bacteria Responsible for the Disease, P.falciparium, Normally Infects the Red Blood CellsJAMES WHISSTOCK: A lot of the current drugs target how the malaria parasite actually enters the red blood cell, and that type of thing and one of the problems with malaria as you probably know is drug resistance.

So you’ve got this reservoir of drug resistant malaria growing and so you need a lot of different weapons in your arsenal. The dream is a one-shot cure and this particular approach one hopes that basically we may be able to get to a point where it is efficacious in that way.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: There are several different strains of malaria, and Professor Whisstock says he’s hopeful his team will be able to develop drugs that will treat them all.

JAMES WHISSTOCK: I mean ideally what you want is something that the parasite needs, that is very different from something present in the host, ie., the human, and that will, if you like, is similar across all the different forms of the parasite.

And looking at the available data that we have, I think that there’s a very good chance that this will be efficacious across other different species.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Malaria has the greatest impact on poor countries. Africa is the most severely affected, but the illness is also strikes closer to Australian shores. Southeast Asia suffers a large number of cases, and malaria is particularly prevalent in Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

Professor Whisstock says it’s early days yet, but he hopes his team will be able to develop drugs that are both cheap and effective.

JAMES WHISSTOCK: We hope so. I mean there’s a huge effort round the world; I mean the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, other major funding bodies, major effort to basically target this parasite and to develop affordable therapeutics.

Now it’s early days for us, we don’t know I guess how much something is going to cost until we try to develop it and take it further, but I’m really excited about this. It’s a different approach to killing this beast and hopefully we’ll be able to take it forward into the clinic in the future.


You can find the original transcript from ABC’s PM National Radio Show here.

~ by Tavurvur on February 5, 2009.

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