A cure for relapsing malaria found in headway studies of monkey malaria


A team of Otago scientists have created a breakthrough in the research study of monkey malaria which could further help them in diagnosing and treating a relapsing form of human malaria.

Malaria has become an increasingly prominent disease affecting humans as well as animals, with more than 200 million cases per year. The incidence is particularly observed in the Pacific, South America and Asia. Among serious symptoms like seizure, coma or even death, most common are vomiting, headaches, fever and tiredness.

According to experts, relapsing malaria is cause by vivax malaria parasite, which is difficult to treat the cause of human malaria. Present day methods to develop vaccines and new drugs against vivax have been hindered due to lack of in vitro methods. However the latest efforts of scientists have helped in creating an invitro method which helps in culturing a monkey malaria parasite, closely related to the relapsing vivax parasite.

“We can’t culture vivax malaria, but now we can culture its almost identical sister species which gives us an unprecedented opportunity to develop and rapidly test new antimalarials.” commented Jessica Ong. She is a doctoral candidate from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Scientists observed that drugs developed against the human relapsing malaria could also work well against bird malaria, a phenomenon which is responsible for killing of several endangered yellow-eyed penguin species from the New Zealand mainland.

Ong also added that earlier there were no screening models to detect antimalarials which targeted relapsing malaria. Hence, according to Ong, the invention of the new model will help in drug development, in addition to vaccine and diagnostic research.

Based on reports, the special malaria culture has been exported to France, Japan, the USA and the Netherlands. “These various industry and academic groups are using the model to conduct mass screenings of drugs that target the dormant liver stages which are responsible for the relapsing nature of malaria,” reported Dr Dr Adelina Chua.

The discovery is also advantageous in studying the penguin population. “Research has shown human drugs to be effective in treating avian malaria, so the critically threatened yellow-eyed penguins will have a better chance of surviving when this model is developed,” commented Rosalie Goldsworthy, manager of Penguin Rescue.

The new malaria culture method was published in the journal Nature Communications.