Adding to the sting of malaria drugs

M Somasekhar Hyderabad | Updated on July 08, 2019

University of Hyderabad team develops a mechanism to block the parasite’s ability to repair the DNA broken down by medicines

Indian researchers have identified an anti-malarial compound that promises to improve the effectiveness of malaria drugs. The compound is a chemical inhibitor of DNA recombinant enzyme from the Plasmodium parasite that blocks the internal repair ability of the parasite genome and hence controls malaria fever.

The work has been done by the malaria group at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) led by Mrinal Kanti Bhattacharyya and the results published in a recent issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC).

This inhibitor (B02) is equally effective against drug-sensitive and multi-drug resistant malaria strains. Most importantly, it enhances the action of two of the first-line malaria drugs, Artemisinin (ART) and Chloroquine (CQ), say the UoH researchers.

Currently, ART is the WHO-prescribed last resort to treat cerebral malaria. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop effective drugs to control this brain fever, as it is commonly understood.

This development could also hold a key to tackling the scourge of encephalitis (cerebral fever) in certain districts of Bihar that has been killing hundreds of children.

The emergence of ART resistant malaria parasites from different parts of the world has been a major issue in the treatment and control of malaria in developing nations.

While efforts to discover newer antimalarial compounds are ongoing, increasing the effectiveness of ART through ART-combination therapy is the need of the hour. To this end, this is a very timely step forward, Bhattacharyya told BusinessLine.

Over 9.5 million cases of malaria were reported in India in 2017. However, nearly 94 per cent of the 1.25-billion population is at risk of malaria, according to a WHO report on malaria. Overall, there has been a decline in the cases, it observed in the past two years. India has set 2030 as the target year for eliminating malaria. It currently accounts for 4 per cent of malaria cases globally and 52 per cent of malaria deaths outside the African region. While an effective vaccine has been eluding researchers for long, potent drugs too are hard to come by.

How it works

Explaining the research work, Bhattacharyya said the malaria parasite is a single-celled organism. When the DNA is broken, the parasite dies. However, it also has an internal mechanism that helps to repair the broken DNA.

“Our compound selectively blocks the enzyme that aids in the repair mechanism of the Plasmodium genome,” he said.

“Artemisia and Chloroquine, when administered to a patient, cause the DNA to break. Our compound helps in blocking the possible internal repair mechanism, thus, effectively ensuring that the parasite dies.”

This could be a new hope for malaria treatment and is currently undergoing animal testing, says Bhattacharyya, who has been researching on malaria since 1993.

The research team also consisted of Pratap Vydyam, Dibyendu Dutta and Niranjan Suthram from the Department of Biochemistry in collaboration with Sunanda Bhattacharyya from the Department of Biotechnology and Bioinformatics.

Published on July 08, 2019

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