Johns Hopkins Scientists Designing Compounds To Fight Malaria

Chemists have developed new compounds that show promise in treating malaria by making the disease-causing parasites self-destruct.

A scientific paper about the compounds will appear in the March 12 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, published by the American Chemical Society.

At any given time, about 300 million people suffer from malaria, and as many as 3 million of them, mostly children, will die every year. The most severe form of the infection is caused by tiny parasites called Plasmodium falciparum, which are transmitted by female mosquitos feeding on human blood.

The drug of choice to combat malaria has been chloroquine, a derivative of quinine, which comes from the bark of the Cinchona tree. But the malaria parasites began showing resistance to chloroquine nearly 40 years ago.

Chinese chemists have isolated a new anti-malarial drug from the plant Artemisia annua, which has been used for thousands of years as an herbal remedy for fever. The drug, called artemisinin, has since been proven to be effective against malaria. Chemists have developed derivatives of artemisinin, as well. But artemisinin and its derivatives remain difficult and expensive to produce, and they quickly break down in the human body.

New synthetic compounds being developed at Johns Hopkins have been shown to kill malaria parasites in test tubes and in experiments with mice. Although the synthetic compounds use the same general mechanism as artemisinin, they are not derivatives of the drug; they are a new type of compound that has a much simpler structure. Because they are simpler, they can be made in only three to five chemical steps, compared to 12 or more steps for the artemisinin derivatives.

The research is being conducted by a team of scientists led by Gary H. Posner, Scowe Professor of Chemistry in The Johns Hopkins University School of Arts and Sciences, Theresa A. Sh

Contact: Emil Venere
Johns Hopkins University

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