Griffith paves way for new antimalarials

The development of new antimalarials which overcome the long-fought challenges of drug resistance is the focus of promising research at Griffith University.

A team from the Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies has identified a new compound class which has not previously been exploited for malaria therapy.

“In the absence of a licensed vaccine, there is an urgent need to develop new antimalarial drugs that act with novel modes of action and overcome resistance,”said lead researcher Associate Professor Sally-Ann Poulsen.

“Based on our tests so far, we’ve found that this compound class is able to kill the malaria parasite whilst leaving human cells unharmed.

“This is a very promising position for antimalarial drug discovery. Identifying

compounds which have the ability to kill their target but not affect the host has always been a significant hurdle. Our preliminary compounds possess these safety attributes and allow us a good therapeutic window with the potential for

design of improved antimalarial drugs.’

Having been provided with an $823,000 ARC Future Fellowship Grant for the four year study, Associate Professor Poulsen will also aim to build new knowledge of how these antimalarial compounds actually work.

“The target of most antimalarial drugs is not known and the general understanding of how they work is currently very poor,” she said.

“This research grant will allow the team to develop chemical tools to discover how these molecules kill the parasite. This is done by ‘tagging’ the target in the parasite to see exactly which part of the parasite is being attacked.

“If we can understand how the compound is working we will then have a much

better chance of developing more effective antimalarials for the future.’

Associate Professor Sally-Ann Poulsen is one of four Griffith University academics to receive an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship Grant commencing in 2011. Currently, there are two academics at the Eskitis Institute with Future Fellowships; both are women who are working on malaria drug discovery funded by the ASI (Areas for Strategic Investment) strategy.

Dr Kathy Andrews, who is also a collaborator on the latest antimalarials research,

received a $686,000 Future Fellowship in 2009 for her study ‘New drugs for malaria that target histone deacetylases’.