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Protein research illustrates how drugs fight malaria, other diseases

s for selective drug action are incomplete," he said.

In the current research, Zhang and Rathod found that parasites are sensitive to drugs that target their DHFR in part because of their inability to rapidly replenish the dead enzyme. Host cells, on the other hand, can rapidly generate excess amounts of the DHFR protein if the drug accidentally enters the host cell. Previously, it was believed the different effects between parasite and host were entirely related to how tightly the drug used against the parasite was bound to the DHFR protein in the parasite.

The latest research offers a new standard for selective targeting, Rathod said. He likens it to the military establishing a battle plan based on good intelligence.

"You can have all the maps, you can have all the guns, you can have all the firepower, but if you don't know where the important targets are, it's a waste. You can do as much harm as good," he said.

The Science paper focuses on malaria, a disease that each year strikes one-seventh of the world's population 900 million people, mostly in southern Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and central and South America and kills 2.7 million people.

However, the same concepts could apply to research into, for example, HIV, cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer's disease, Rathod said. The goal is finding the means to attack certain kinds of cells in ways that aren't toxic to other cells, even cells similar to the ones being attacked.

Malaria is the focus of research in Rathod's lab because it is so widespread and often affects some of the world's poorest populations. In some parts of Africa, for example, many people infected with malaria would be hard pressed to pay even $10 a year for medication, Rathod said. Solving a problem of that magnitude will require scientists, drug manufacturers and social agencies to work together, he said.

"Malaria is a big issue because no vaccines have worked," he said. "Medications have w
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Contact: Vince Stricherz
vinces@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
18-Apr-2002


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