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This parasite will self-destruct: Researchers discover new weapon against drug-resistant malaria

A new method to combat malaria which sees the disease turn against itself could offer an effective treatment for the hundreds of millions of people infected globally each year, as the efficacy of current antimalarial drugs weakens.

The University of Melbourne-led research published today in Science has identified an anti-malarial compound, ML901, which inhibits the malaria parasite but does not harm mammalian — human or other mammals’ — cells.

Co-lead author Professor Leann Tilley, from the Bio21 Institute at the University of Melbourne, said the ML901 compound effectively made the parasite the agent of its own demise, underpinning it potency and selectivity.

“ML901 works by an unusual reaction-hijacking mechanism,” Professor Tilley said.

“Imagine a stealth weapon that can be used to launch a self-destruct attack on your vehicle — slamming on the brakes and cutting the engine. ML901 finds a particular chink in the machinery that the malaria parasite uses to generate the proteins needed to reproduce itself and stops it doing so.

“While there is much work to be done to fine tune what we’ve discovered, these results are really encouraging in the search for new antimalarials.”

In the collaboration with Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Medicines for Malaria Medicine — the peak international body for antimalarial drug development — and research labs across five continents, tests were conducted using molecules provided by Takeda, during which the ML901 compound was identified.

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