Malaria is a serious disease. In 2010 an estimated 219 million cases of the mosquito-borne disease occurred worldwide, killing about 660,000 people, according to the CDC.
But a new compound developed by an international research collaborative led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists has been shown to completely eliminate the parasite from infected hosts using a clever trick of biomedical engineering.
The candidate, called (+)-SJ733, triggers the immune system to rapidly destroy red blood cells infected by the deadliest type of malaria parasite. The molecule blocks a pump that maintains the parasite’s sodium balance, triggering a chain reaction that leads the immune system to eliminate the cell in the same way aging cells are removed from the body.
After only 48 hours, the parasites are gone without a trace.
While several anti-malarial medications are available, drug resistance is a growing problem and current treatments have limitations, particularly among pregnant women. If safe, this new treatment offers a new tool in the fight against the illness.
Another promising class of antimalarial compounds triggered the same changes in red blood cells infected with the malaria parasite, researchers reported. The drugs, called spiroindolones, include NITD246, which is already in clinical trials for treatment of malaria.
“Our goal is to develop an affordable, fast-acting combination therapy that cures malaria with a single dose,” said R. Kiplin Guy, PhD, chair of St. Jude Chemical Biology and Therapeutics.
“These results indicate that (+)-SJ733, and other compounds that act in a similar fashion, are highly attractive additions to the global malaria eradication campaign, which would mean so much for the world’s children.”
Clinical trials are being planned to test the safety of (+)-SJ733 in humans.