Tropical seaweed may hold antimalarial properties

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have found that a group of chemical compounds used by a species of tropical seaweed to stop fungus attacks through chemical communication may have promising antimalarial properties for humans.

The research was reported at the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Monday as part of a long-term study of chemical signaling among organisms in coral reef communities, according to PhysOrg.com.

"The language of chemistry in the natural world has been around for billions of years, and it is crucial for the survival of these species,” Julia Kubanek, an associate professor at Georgia Tech's School of Biology and School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said, PhysOrg.com reports. "We can co-opt these chemical processes for human benefit in the form of new treatments for diseases that affect us."

During the studies, led by Georgia Tech student Paige Stout in collaboration with California scientists, the lead molecule of the chemical compound showed promising activity against malaria.

The next step is to test the compound in a mouse model of the disease, though the likelihood that the molecule will have just the right chemistry to be used in humans in small.

"These molecules are promising leads for the treatment of malaria, and they operate through an interesting mechanism that we are studying," Kubanek said, according to PhysOrg.com. "There are only a couple of drugs left that are effective against malaria in all areas of the world, so we are hopeful that these molecules will continue to show promise as we develop them further as pharmaceutical leads."

Over one million people die each year from malaria caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The parasite has developed some resistance to multiple antimalarial drugs, including artemisinin, the world’s most important drug in the fight against malaria.