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Protein research illustrates how drugs fight malaria, other diseases

Parasite-caused diseases such as malaria kill millions of people each year, and eradication efforts have been largely futile.

But developing a clear understanding of how to exploit emerging information from genome research is the first step in developing effective, safe and affordable drugs that can combat many such diseases, said Pradipsinh Rathod, a University of Washington chemistry professor.

For instance, understanding how a single protein called DHFR is regulated in mammals and how it functions differently in the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium eventually could mean a breakthrough in identifying other good targets for attacking Plasmodium and ultimately killing the deadly pathogen, Rathod said.

Rathod and former graduate student Kai Zhang, now a post-doctoral researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, are co-authors of a paper detailing the work in the April 19 edition of the journal Science.

The work supports a shift in how scientists think about treating infectious diseases, improving on many of the increasingly ineffective remedies that are currently used, Rathod said.

"We are reinterpreting what has worked well previously, not just through a half-century-old standard for selective drug action but in the context of our most current understanding of how the cell works," he said. "By combining that reinterpretation with new tools developed in the last few years, we're discovering that there's a lot more to finding drugs that work well."

Much is being learned from the study of the human genome, and work on the malaria genome is expected to be finished this year, allowing for the first time a direct search for metabolic differences between host and parasite on an unprecedented scale, Rathod said. That in turn will inspire hunts for pharmaceuticals that will selectively kill parasites while doing minimum damage to the host cell.

"But such efforts will be futile if our model
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Contact: Vince Stricherz
vinces@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
18-Apr-2002


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