All that glitters is gold.
Researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design and Nanyang Technological University of Singapore have developed a new drug from gold-containing molecules that has proven to be effective in killing malaria parasites.
The study, published in the scientific journal Dalton Transactions, reveals that the gold molecule G3 impairs the malaria parasite Plasmodium by causing its digestive vacuoles to contort and balloon in size. This effectively kills the parasite by suppressing its ability to digest and expel hemoglobin, a protein in human red blood cells that it lives off.
"It is intriguing to learn how chemically diverse small molecules interfere with hemoglobin metabolism, a hallmark of malaria infection,” Assistant Professor Dr Rajesh Chandramohanadas wrote in the research paper. “These results point out the potential of gold-conjugated derivatives as antimalarials.”
Malaria is a life-threatening mosquito-borne disease that is found in over 100 countries, predominantly throughout large areas of Africa and Southeast Asia. When an infected mosquito bites a person, they inject the Plasmodium parasite into their bloodstream. The parasites then travel to the liver, multiply, and then enter and burst red blood cells.
In November 2018, the World Health Organization revealed progress in the fight against malaria had regressed — 217 million malaria cases were recorded in 2016, the report disclosed. A year later, the number of worldwide cases had increased by 2 million.
"The world faces a new reality: as progress stagnates, we are at risk of squandering years of toil, investment, and success in reducing the number of people suffering from the disease," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced in a statement.
The growth in malaria cases has primarily been linked to a recently thriving trade in fake and substandard medicines. Within Southeast Asia alone, up to one-third of all antimalarial drugs are considered to be of poor quality, which, in turn, allows parasites to develop the ability to resist the regulated drugs intended to eliminate them.
The newly developed G3 drug will soon undergo clinical testing, including examing the drugs ability to counter resistance development by parasites. Chandramohanadas told the Southeast Asia Globe he is optimistic for the drugs long term success.
"Due to the broad activity against a critical survival pathway, indications are that the parasites are unlikely to gain resistance against digestive vacuole disrupting agents such as G3,” he stated.