South African scientists uncover new chemicals that kill malaria parasite

Chemical compounds that could potentially be used for a new line of drugs to treat malaria and even kill the parasite in its infectious stage have been found by South African scientists, which most available drugs do not.

Analysis conducted by the University of Pretoria, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, found that chemical compounds undergoing tuberculosis and cancer treatment trials—the JmjC inhibitor ML324 and the antitubercular clinical candidate SQ109—can kill the disease-causing parasite at a time when it typically infects others.

According to Reuters Africa, in November, the World Health Organization said that deaths from malaria due to disruption to mosquito-borne disease services during the coronavirus pandemic will far exceed those killed in sub-Saharan Africa by COVID-19.

According to the latest WHO figures, malaria killed more than 400,000 people in 2019 worldwide, all but a few thousand of them in Africa. 229 million cases have occurred worldwide, 215 million of them on the continent.

“Our innovation was around finding compounds that are able to block the transmissible stages and we if we are able to do so then we stop the spread of malaria,” Research Chair in Sustainable Malaria Control and biochemistry professor Lyn-Marie Birkholtz, who was part of the team, reveals.

As it gets formed in the liver or after it has invaded red blood cells, most drugs destroy malaria, but do not fix it until the parasite is released from the cells, which is when it is transmissible via mosquito bites to other individuals, she said.

Due to concerns about side effects, the one drug that can have an effect during the transmissible process, primaquine, is not commonly used.

“If we can develop these compounds … then we have an additional new tool that we can use to eliminate malaria,” said Birkholtz.

Before the compounds could be accepted as a cure for malaria, further tests would also need to be carried out, but the advance would also resolve drug resistance issues, she said.

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