Promising Compound Rapidly Eliminates Malaria Parasite

Promising Compound Rapidly Eliminates Malaria Parasite
(Image source)
An international research collaborative has found that a promising anti-malarial compound tricks the immune system to rapidly destroy red blood cells infected with the malaria parasite, but leave healthy cells unharmed. The study appears in the current online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The compound, (+)-SJ733, was developed from a molecule identified in a previous study that helped to jumpstart worldwide anti-malarial drug development efforts. Malaria is caused by a parasite spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. The disease remains a major health threat to more than half the world's population, particularly children. The World Health Organization estimates that in Africa a child dies of malaria every minute.
In this study, researchers determined that (+)-SJ733 uses a novel mechanism to kill the parasite by recruiting the immune system to eliminate malaria-infected red blood cells. In a mouse model of malaria, a single dose of (+)-SJ733 killed 80 percent of malaria parasites within 24 hours. After 48 hours the parasite was undetectable.
Whole genome sequencing of the Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of the malaria parasites, revealed that (+)-SJ733 disrupted activity of the ATP4 protein in the parasites. The protein functions as a pump that the parasites depend on to maintain the proper sodium balance by removing excess sodium.
Researchers showed that inhibiting ATP4 triggered a series of changes in malaria-infected red blood cells that marked them for destruction by the immune system. The infected cells changed shape and shrank in size. They also became more rigid and exhibited other alterations typical of aging red blood cells. The immune system responded using the same mechanism the body relies on to rid itself of aging red blood cells.
The goal of the researchers is to develop an affordable, fast-acting combination therapy that cures malaria with a single dose. Planning has begun to move (+)-SJ733 from the laboratory into the clinic beginning with a safety study of the drug in healthy adults. The drug development effort is being led by a consortium that includes scientists at St. Jude, the Swiss-based non-profit Medicines for Malaria Venture and Eisai Co., a Japanese pharmaceutical company.