Scientists find new way to fight Malaria drug resistance

April 15, 2014
Credit: edans on flickr

An anti-malarial treatment that lost its status as the leading weapon against the deadly disease could be given a new lease of life, with new research indicating it simply needs to be administered differently.

The findings could revive the use of the cheap anti-malarial drug in treating and preventing the mosquito-bourne disease, which claims the lives of more than half a million people each year around the world.

The parasite that causes has developed resistance to chloroquine, but research carried out at the Australian National University (ANU) and Germany's University of Heidelberg has shown that the parasite that causes resistance has an Achilles' heel.

"We studied diverse versions of this protein and in all cases found that it is limited in its capacity to remove the drug from the parasite," said malaria researcher Dr Rowena Martin, from the ANU Research School of Biology.

"This means malaria could once again be treated with chloroquine if it is administered twice-daily, rather than just once a day".

Once hailed as a wonder drug, chloroquine is still used in developing nations in the South Pacific, Africa, Asia and South America, but has been withdrawn from use in many developed countries.

Dr Martin and her colleagues also revealed how the protein may have developed resistance to chloroquine.

"We found that the protein gains the ability to move chloroquine out of the parasite through one of two evolutionary pathways, but that this process is rigid – one wrong turn and the protein is rendered useless," she said.

"This indicates that the protein is under conflicting pressures, which is a weakness that could be exploited in future antimalarial strategies."

Dr Martin said the findings, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, could be used to help millions of people in developing nations who are at risk of catching malaria.

She said that there is also potential to apply the findings to several chloroquine-like drugs that are also becoming less effective as the builds up resistance.

Dr Martin, however, does not recommend taking large doses of chloroquine.

"The key is to increase the frequency of chloroquine administration, for example by taking a standard dose in the morning and another at night. If you take too much all at once it can kill you," she cautions.

Explore further: Chloroquine makes comeback to combat malaria

More information: Robert L. Summers, Anurag Dave, Tegan J. Dolstra, Sebastiano Bellanca, Rosa V. Marchetti, Megan N. Nash, Sashika N. Richards, Valerie Goh, Robyn L. Schenk, Wilfred D. Stein, Kiaran Kirk, Cecilia P. Sanchez, Michael Lanzer, and Rowena E. Martin. "Diverse mutational pathways converge on saturable chloroquine transport via the malaria parasite's chloroquine resistance transporter." PNAS 2014 ; published ahead of print April 11, 2014, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1322965111

Related Stories

Chloroquine makes comeback to combat malaria

October 3, 2012

Malaria-drug monitoring over the past 30 years has shown that malaria parasites develop resistance to medicine, and the first signs of resistance to the newest drugs have just been observed. At the same time, resistance monitoring ...

Recommended for you

Zika virus infection alters human and viral RNA

October 20, 2016

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine have discovered that Zika virus infection leads to modifications of both viral and human genetic material. These modifications—chemical tags known as ...

Food-poisoning bacteria may be behind Crohn's disease

October 19, 2016

People who retain a particular bacterium in their gut after a bout of food poisoning may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn's disease later in life, according to a new study led by researchers at McMaster University.

Neurodevelopmental model of Zika may provide rapid answers

October 19, 2016

A newly published study from researchers working in collaboration with the Regenerative Bioscience Center at the University of Georgia demonstrates fetal death and brain damage in early chick embryos similar to microcephaly—a ...

Scientists uncover new facets of Zika-related birth defects

October 17, 2016

In a study that could one day help eliminate the tragic birth defects caused by Zika virus, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have elucidated how the virus attacks the brains of newborns, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.