Severe forms of malaria such as that caused by Plasmodium falciparum may be deadly even after treatment with current parasite-killing drugs. This is due to persistent cyto-adhesion of infected erythrocytes even though existing parasites within the red blood cells are dead. As vaccines for malaria have proved less than moderately effective, and to treat these severe cases of P. falciparum malaria, new avenues of treatmen are urgently needed. Latest estimates indicate that more than 500 million cases of malaria and more than 400,000 deaths are reported worldwide each year. Anti-adhesion drugs may hold the key to significantly improving survival rates. Using venom from the Conus nux, a species of sea snail, a first-of-its-kind study from Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt College of Medicine in collaboration with FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science and the Chemical Sciences Division, National Institute of Standard and Technology, United States Department of Commerce, suggests that these conotoxins could potentially treat malaria caused by P. falciparum. The study provides important leads toward the development of novel and cost-effective anti-adhesion or blockade-therapy pharmaceuticals aimed at counteracting the pathology of severe malaria. Results, published online on December 26, 2020 for the March 15, 2021 issue of the Journal of Proteomics, expand the pharmacological reach of conotoxins/conopeptides by revealing their ability to disrupt protein-protein and protein-polysaccharide interactions that directly contribute to malaria. Similarly, mitigation of emerging diseases like AIDS and COVID-19 also could benefit from conotoxins as potential inhibitors of protein-protein interactions as treatment.
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