Research Digest

Lab notes: A World War era drug may be useful in combating malaria

Scientists in India are investigating the role of acriflavine, used as an anti-parasitic agent in World War II, against the disease.

A neglected and old anti-parasitic drug used during World War II is emerging as a new weapon in the fight against malaria, even as the malaria parasite becomes resistant to currently available drugs.

A group of Indian researchers have resurrected acriflavine or ACF which was used as an anti-parasite drug in the last century, and have found it to be effective against the malaria parasite. Now they are working to make this molecule more effective using nanotechnology.

Researchers at the Special Centre for Molecular Medicine at Jawaharlal Nehru University have got a patent for antimalarial properties of ACF. They have now joined hands with scientists at the National Institute of Immunology to develop a nano-formulation of the drug and to study its potential in animal models. The Department of Biotechnology is funding this joint effort.

ACF was previously used as a trypanocidal agent against a range of infections during World War II. But due to preferential use of chloroquine for treatment of malaria, its antimalarial activity was never investigated. “It was used as an antibacterial and anti-parasitical agent but it was not known as antimalarial agent. We have found that it is effective as an antimalarial molecule also,” said Professor Suman Dhar of Jawaharlal Nehru University. “We believe nanoformulation of ACF will help release the molecule slowly into the host. This will increase its stability, and it will be then conjugated with specific antibodies to make it more specific.”

Professor Suman Dhar (extreme right) with her research team.
Professor Suman Dhar (extreme right) with her research team.

The researchers have already shown that ACF inhibits the growth of both chloroquine-sensitive and chloroquine-resistant strains of human malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum. It was also found to clear malarial infection from bloodstreams of mice infected with Plasmodium berghei. In addition, they have found that ACF is preferentially accumulated in parasitised red blood cells.

Chloroquine and pyrimethamine, which were used as primary chemotherapeutic drugs, are of little use now since the parasite has developed resistance to them. Though there is a decline in global burden of malaria continues to be a major health problem in many countries. Recent reports of resistance to artemisinin, the only effective antimalarial drug at present, are causing concern among health agencies globally.

The team of researchers includes Prof Suman Dhar from Special Center for Molecular Medicine at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Dr Jaydeep Bhattacharya and Dr Deepak Gaur from School of Biotechnology at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Dr Agam P. Singh from National Institute of Immunology in New Delhi.

This article was first published on India Science Wire.

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