New approach to fight malaria proves successful

A study published this month in Cell Death & Disease announced a discovery that may change the face of anti-malaria drugs.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne illness. When a malaria-infected mosquito bites a human, the malaria parasite travels into the human liver and begins occupying liver cells; within 7 to 10 days, the only symptom of malaria is enlarged liver cells.

The malaria disease make the liver cells they occupy resistant to death, while the liver cells which are healthy kill themselves, or commit apoptosis. Researchers Alexis Kaushansky and Stefan Kappe of Seattle BioMed, the authors of the study, have found new ways to switch this phenomenon.

Kaushansky and Kappe set out to find a way to keep healthy liver cells unharmed while targeting the liver cells infected with the malaria parasite. The researchers decided to use cells to stimulate p53, a common tumor-fighting methodology. The team discovered if they administered a chemotherapy agent to target a Bcl-2 molecule it forced malaria-infected liver cells to commit apoptosis, leaving healthy liver cells unharmed.

"Using systems biology, we were able to show the existence of additional pathways that can be used to fight infected cells, demonstrating that our previous research involving p53 was not an isolated case and that we have only begun to scratch the surface of how broad these kinds of host-based therapeutics can be," Kaushansky said.

The researchers discovered an entirely new approach to fighting off malaria, which may change the face of anti-malaria drug research and development.

"In this study, we looked at an entirely separate pathway, working by an entirely different mechanism, and it still worked to help kill infected cells," Kappe said. "This gives us hope that there are many other pathways that may also work as drug targets, and we look forward to conducting additional research into other potential pathways that may also hold potential for treating malaria."