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New treatment to limit malaria transmission?

In 2017, India reported 9.6 million cases of malaria. Its burden is among the highest in the world. As such, any new tools to limit transmission of the disease comes as welcome news.

Malaria is considered one of the deadliest mosquito-borne diseases in India.

Only Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Nigeria registered a higher burden of malaria than India. India accounts for four percent of the global burden of malaria cases. With issues such as drug resistance compromising the efficacy of existing treatments, the need for innovation is patent.

Scientists have found a novel compound that has been proven to inhibit key enzymes to interrupt the malaria parasite’s life cycle in humans. Interruption at this stage was found to prevent further transmission back into the local mosquito population, thus limiting the spread of the infection.

The results of the study, published in the journal Science, potentially pave the way for the development of a new line of antimalarial drugs. The molecule, called TCMDC-135051, is currently produced by GlaxoSmithKline and interacts with a cyclin-dependent-like protein kinase PfCLK3 in the malaria parasite.

Crucially, the molecule was found to not interact with human proteins in a similar manner. This is a tremendously positive outcome as it implies that any medication derived from the molecule could have little to no side effects. Given its potential for limiting the spread of malaria and — thus far — positive results, it could be a major new tool in the fight against the disease.

Paulo Godoi, who conducted the research during a postdoctoral fellowship with CQMED, said “inhibition of PfCLK3 affects the parasite in both the asexual stage of its development, when it proliferates in human cells and causes symptoms, and the sexual stage, when it can be transmitted back to the vector insect, repeating the cycle by infecting other humans.”

The compound is therefore effective over the duration of the malaria infection, and thus could be applied uniformly to all those who have contracted malaria and still be effective. As many medications are becoming less effective due to increasing levels of antimalarial resistance, novel treatments are a necessity to circumnavigate the issue.

Limiting the spread of malaria after a person has become infected is a vital strategy to prevent outbreaks. This rings true for India perhaps more than anywhere else due to the population density. A single individual could be bitten by mosquitoes across the length of a city during a single commute, allowing for infected mosquito populations to be present in the local vicinity of millions of people. While currently in its early stages, hope is still there for new generations of medicines that could one day eliminate malaria.

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