Although global malaria mortality rates fell by 60% over the past 15 years, drug-resistant malarial parasites are on the rise. A single parasite is responsible for 80-90 percent of malarial deaths, but varying treatment regimens around the world are causing different strains to arise in each region.
"We cannot use a single drug anymore to treat malaria—we must use combinations," says Paul D. Roepe, co-director of the Georgetown Center for Infectious Disease.
In December, the NIH awarded Roepe and a team of scientists at Georgetown, Columbia, and UC San Diego $2.1 million to study mutations in two genes within the mosquito-borne protozoans that allow the parasites to rapidly overcome commonly used anti-malarial drugs. PfCRT and PfMDR1 are the best understood markers for drug-resistant malaria. Knowing more about them may lead to new therapies or to lethal combinations of existing therapies, Roepe says.
Roepe and his team have posted results from their drug screening work on the web, including dozens of combinations that are effective against drug-resistant P. falciparum in an effort to facilitate global research sharing.
"We hope this new study will provide additional critical information for rapidly identifying the best new therapies," he says.