Pharmacologists have discovered a compound with the potential to treat malaria, as well as protect patients from the disease and prevent its spread.

The compound, codenamed DDD107498 was recently unearthed at Dundee University. It’s unique compared to current antimalarial drugs in that it may be possible to both treat and prevent the mosquito-borne disease in a single dose. The revolutionary discovery could play a crucial role in tackling the deadly infectious tropical disease, which currently causes 775,000 deaths per year – Africa being the worst affected region.

Three out of five parasites that cause malaria in humans have become resistant to antimalarials. New strains in Cambodia are even showing resistance to Artemisinin, a front line drug used in the treatment of the disease, which the World Health Organisation has labelled “an urgent public health concern”.  But scientists now believe this new compound, once developed, could even work well against these highly resistant strains.

 

What is malaria?

Malaria is a disease that infects blood cells, due to the presence of the parasite Plasmodium. It is transmitted when an infected mosquito bites a human, injecting the parasite into the body. The parasite then multiplies in the liver before invading the red blood cells.

Malaria can cause major disruption to the flow of blood to the organs, resulting in symptoms such as headaches, fever, joint pain, shivering, muscle pain, diarrhoea and vomiting. In more serious cases it can even lead to death.

The World Health Organisation highlights sub-Saharan Africa as the highest risk area for the disease. It is also prevalent in Latin America and Asia, with some areas of the Middle East and parts of Europe also affected.

 

How to prevent malaria?

Current prevention treatments involve taking antimalarial drugs such as Malarone, Doxycycline or Lariam. The type of anti-malarial tablets you should take depends on where you are going, your medical history, allergies, any medication you are currently taking, your age, if you are pregnant, and if you have had any problems with antimalarial tablets previously.

 

 

The problems with current antimalaria treatments

Although antimalarial tablets are generally effective, they only prevent the chances of contracting the deadly disease by up to 90%. This is due to drug-resistant strains of the disease, which are becoming more widespread. Currently, antimalarial tablets need to be taken regularly for a number of days or even weeks prior to travelling to affected areas, and once you return, to build up immunity and prevent the disease.

If the new compound is developed and works as scientists at Dundee believe it will, antimalarial treatment could become both simpler and more effective. Only one dose would be needed to treat or prevent the disease, making it much more convenient for those travelling to affected areas.