HIV drugs may be used to fight malaria

New research has shown that drugs used to treat HIV may one day also target parasitic diseases such as leishmaniasis and malaria.

In a study published in The FASEB Journal, scientists from the Cardiff School of Biosciences at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom identified how a particular protein called Ddi 1 from Leishmania parasites is sensitive to anti-HIV inhibitors.

While it was known that HIV could kill parasites, this is the first time that scientists have learned how the target mechanism operates. The research has the potential to significantly alter the way parasitic diseases are treated.

"People in developing countries can be exposed to parasitic diseases such as malaria and leishmaniasis that can kill millions of people, so new and effective drugs are urgently needed to combat these infections," Dr. Colin Berry of the University of Cardiff said. "The use of existing anti-HIV agents has indicated that there is a potential target in some parasites and by identifying the protein responsible, we hope to exploit this weakness in the parasite to develop new and effective therapeutics to combat these devastating diseases."

Scientists conducted the study by examining yeast that lacked the Ddi 1 protein. They found that the yeast secreted high levels of proteins. The addition of the Leishmania Ddi 1 protein to the yeast returned the amount of proteins secreted to normal levels until HIV proteinase inhibitors were added.

The inhibitors blocked the ability of Leishmania Ddi 1 to reduce the yeast’s secretions, proving that there was a clear interaction with the drug.

When the scientists conducted tests on human Ddi 1, they managed to identify drugs that were able to block the Leishmania Ddi 1 but that were much less effective on its human equivalent. This raises the possibility that future drugs could have reduced side effects.

Further research is still needed, but the potency of the existing compounds indicates that the researchers may have found a useful starting point for exploratory chemistry.

"Like HIV, parasitic diseases have been and still are a serious threat to human health world-wide," Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, said. "Millions die each year from these maladies and we desperately need new drugs. How fortuitous that agents designed against one killer, HIV, may now be turned against parasitic diseases such as leishmaniasis and malaria."