A class of chemotherapy drugs designed to block signalling pathways in cancer cells also kills the parasite that causes malaria, opening up a whole new way of combating this deadly disease.
The research shows that the malaria parasite depends upon a signalling pathway present in the host, initially in liver cells, and then in red blood cells (RBCs), in order to proliferate.
The enzymes active in the signalling pathway are not encoded by the parasite, but rather hijacked by the parasite to serve its own purposes.
These same pathways are targeted by a new class of molecules developed for cancer chemotherapy known as kinase inhibitors, the journal Cellular Microbiology reports.
When a team from the Global Health Institute (GHI) and Inserm, the French agency for biomedical research, subjected RBCs infected with malaria to the chemotherapy drug, the parasite was stopped in its tracks, according to a GHI statement.
Christian Doerig and his colleagues tested RBCs infected with plasmodium falciparum parasites and showed that the specific PAK-MEK signalling pathway was more highly activated in infected cells than in un-infected cells.
When they disabled the pathway, the parasite was unable to proliferate and died. Applied in lab, the chemotherapy drug also killed a rodent version of malaria (P. berghei), in both liver cells and red blood cells.
This indicates that hijacking the host cell’s signalling pathway is a generalized strategy used by malaria, and thus disabling that pathway would likely be an effective strategy in combating the many strains of the parasite known to infect humans.
Malaria infects 250 million and kills one to three million people every year worldwide.