NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Scripps Research Institute has landed a $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study the malaria parasite's drug resistance capabilities and how it develops in the blood and in the liver stages.
The researchers will search for mutations in the Plasmodium parasite that are involved in these stages of the parasite's life cycle, which enables it to develop resistance to anti-malarial drugs.
Plasmodium's life cycle in the human body after a mosquito bite begins in the liver within 30 minutes of transmission. After remaining in the liver cells and multiplying for days or months, the Plasmodium infects red blood cells, which burst and release the toxins into the bloodstream that cause the sometimes fatal sickness.
Anti-malarial drugs are targeted toward the disease phase that occurs in the bloodstream, but this research will study the pathways that are necessary for the Plasomodium to develop in both the blood and liver stages.
The work will focus on how the parasite has developed resistance to compounds in culture, and will characterize and identify the genetic mutations that enable drug resistance, in the hope of providing new information on potential drug targets.
"Many anti-malarial drugs alleviate symptoms, but do not necessarily result in a complete cure because some malaria parasites are able to persist asymptomatically in the liver for months or years," Scripps Research Professor Elizabeth Winzeler, principal investigator on the grant, said in a statement. "We hope to find new targets that are critical to the liver stages as well as the blood stages with the long-term aim of designing better drugs."