New malaria genetics approach to fight drug-resistant parasites

New malaria genetics approach to help fight drug-resistant parasites. | Courtesy of

Researchers with the Center for Infectious Disease Research, the University of Notre Dame and Texas Biomedical Research Institute recently created a tool to improve scientific understanding of malaria drug resistance by using malaria genetic crosses with a humanized mouse model and mosquitoes.

Scientists want to understand how the drug resistance arises, how virulence increases and how parasites mate in order to improve parasite control and save lives.

The researchers found that using a genetic cross pipeline enables any new parasite (whether multidrug resistant or hyper virulent) to recognize the trait’s cause in the field. The pipeline also allows researchers to systematically study malaria parasite genetics, which will impact the development of new diagnostics and vaccines for malaria. 

Their findings were published in Nature Methods, July 1 edition.

“This is a very exciting advancement in malaria research,” Center for Infectious Disease Research Professor Ashley Vaughan said. “The method will help to rapidly determine the genetic basis of emerging malaria parasite drug resistance. This will inform malaria control, improve treatment decisions and help prevent the spread of drug-resistant parasites.”

Vaughan teamed up with Center for Infectious Disease Research Professor  Stefan Kappe, University of Notre Dame Professor Michael Ferdig and Texas Biomedical Research Institute Professor Tim Anderson for the study. 

“Genetic crosses between parents that differ for a trait of interest, such as Mendel’s famous pea plants, are a powerful tool in biology for mapping the location of genes that cause these traits,” Ferdig said. “However, crosses in Plasmodium falciparum typically require a human host for parasite liver stage development in order to produce genetic offspring. The system we have developed does not require a human host and will become a powerful resource accessible to the worldwide malaria research community.”

The strength of genetic crosses may play a key role in ongoing malaria control efforts.

“Imagine a child with severe malaria caused by a new parasite that is resistant to a certain drug. If a doctor uses that drug to treat the child, the patient might die because the drug doesn’t kill the parasite,” Kappe said. “Thanks to our recent findings, scientists can now map parasite mutations that cause drug resistance in months instead of years, which can help doctors avoid using the drugs that don’t cure but choose the drugs that still can.”

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