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New oral medication may become tool against malaria

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Genetic research into how malaria enters and infects the human body has paved the way for a new oral medication that can now stop the deadly mosquito-borne disease in its tracks. Sotrastaurin, a drug that's already in clinical trials for use against another condition, may now become the frontline in battling a disease that has long plagued developing nations.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Researchers say they have discovered how the malaria parasite gains a foothold inside the human body. In tracking the progression of the disease, researchers learned that the malaria-infected female Anopheles mosquito injects about 1,000 parasites into the human bloodstream.
 
The microorganisms quickly reproduce after each one enters a red blood cell.

"Each parasite divides from one into say 24 to 32 parasites in 48 hours. So you can imagine that an initial thousand parasites can grow very fast," Doron Greenbaum, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania says.

Greenbaum and his colleagues discovered that inside the red blood cells, the parasites utilize a series of proteins to reproduce.

After robbing the cells of their nutrient machinery, the newborn parasites burst through the cell walls and back into the blood stream. It is here that they infect new blood cells, producing millions more offspring. After a one to two-week incubation period, the parasitic infection causes the often fatal symptoms associated with malaria. These commonly include high fevers, chills and sweats.

The malaria pathogen targets a particular enzyme called PKC, which weakens the protein chain, dismantling the cells and causing them to collapse. Sotrastaurin blocks P. falciparum's interaction with PKC.

Without that interactionthe parasites can't reproduce. "They are sort of trapped inside the host cell and if they can't get out, they can't continue their lifecycle and within a couple of hours, they start to die," Greenbaum said.

Greenbaum's team tested the experimental drug, now in clinical trials to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients. It was found that the compound dramatically reduced the number of P. falciparum malaria parasites in infected laboratory mice.
 
Because sotrastaurin targets human cellular proteins, Greenbaum says P. falciparum can't develop resistance to the drug which has made quinine and artemisinin drugs to treat malaria less effective in recent years.

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