Home Lifestyle A big step by Australian scientists to eradicate the disease

A big step by Australian scientists to eradicate the disease


Australian scientists have taken a huge step towards eliminating malaria, a disease that has long outwitted researchers.

A team from the Australian National University has solved a key piece of the puzzle about what makes malaria vulnerable to some drugs and resistant to others.

Dr. Sarah Shafiq of the ANU Research School of Biology explained that the biggest problem in treating malaria is the rate of its adaptation.

“What makes treatment difficult is that the parasite develops resistance to all our drugs so quickly,” she said.

“The former gold standard drug chloroquine, which has been used to treat malaria for 20 years, has failed.

“We could use medication or combination therapy, and in a few years it will just develop resistance to that treatment, and then we should go back to the drawings.”

Camera iconThe malaria parasite can adapt to become resistant to conventional treatments, making overcoming the disease a game of cat and mouse. Credit: News Corp Australia

Dr. Shafiq and her team identified two proteins in malaria – PfMDR1 and PfCRT – that diverted drugs from where they would have a killing effect and concentrated them in “safe areas”, making them ineffective.

“We’ve known about these proteins for a while, but we didn’t know how they were involved in imparting drug resistance to the parasite,” Dr. Shafiq said.

A simple blood test can be done on a malaria patient to determine what types of proteins they have.

“Once we have this information, we will learn from our data which drugs are best to use for this strain of parasites that carries these specific types of protein to kill the parasite,” she said.

Breakthroughs can significantly make malaria treatment cheaper and more effective, which in poor countries where the disease is more prevalent remains one of the biggest hurdles.

In 2020, malaria killed about 627,000 people worldwide.

“Now the biggest problem is just getting the right medicine for the right patient, but it takes money,” said Dr. Shafiq.

“There are a lot of cases of malaria in Africa where they are poorly provided for and it is difficult to get screened by these people when they need it and then get the right medicine quickly.”

A child under a mosquito net, Kenya, Africa
Camera iconYoung children in poor countries are the most vulnerable group for malaria. Credit: Supplied

Groups like the Bill Foundation and Melinda Gates are working to eradicate malaria around the world, and Dr. Shafiq hopes to be one step closer now.

Researchers hope that this discovery, as well as malaria, could help develop new treatments for cancer.

“One of the malarial proteins we have described belongs to the same family as one of the proteins produced by human cancer cells,” said Dr. Shafiq.

“So, with the method we developed to characterize malaria protein, we could apply it to cancer protein, and if we can stop pumping drugs out of cancer cells, it will make our chemotherapy treatments more effective. ”


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