A new anti-malarial compound tricks the immune system to kill red blood cells infected with the malaria parasite while preserving the healthy cells, a new study suggests.
The compound called (+)-SJ733 employs a novel mechanism to destroy the malaria parasite, researchers say. When used on a mouse model of malaria, a dose of (+)-SJ733 destroyed 80 percent of malaria parasites within 24 hours, and no traces of the parasite were visible after 48 hours.
The study appeared online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The base of the compound was a molecule identified at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital during previous research. As the evidence provided by the lab suggests, the compound’s speed and mode of action collaborate to initially slow and then suppress the development of drug-resistant parasites.
Kiplin Guy, corresponding author from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, said: “Our goal is to develop an affordable, fast-acting combination therapy that cures malaria with a single dose.”
Authors of the study indicated that the compound breaks down the activity of the ATP4 protein in Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of the malaria parasites. By inhibiting ATP4 the immune system is able to eliminate malaria-infected red blood cells.
“The data suggest that compounds targeting ATP4 induce physical changes in the infected red blood cells that allow the immune system or erythrocyte quality control mechanisms to recognize and rapidly eliminate infected cells,” said Joseph DeRisi, co-author of the study, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “This rapid clearance response depends on the presence of both the parasite and the investigational drug. That is important because it leaves uninfected red blood cells, also known as erythrocytes, unharmed.”