Malaria causes up to 3 million deaths each year, predominantly afflicting vulnerable people such as children under five and pregnant women, in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Treatments are available for this disease, but the Plasmodium parasite is fast becoming resistant to the most common drugs, and health authorities say they desperately need new strategies to tackle the disease. This new potential treatment uses molecules that interfere with an important stage of the parasite's growth cycle and harnesses this effect to kill them. The impact is so acute it kills ninety per cent of the parasites in just three hours and all those tested in laboratory samples of infected human blood cells, within twelve hours. The research was carried out by chemists at Imperial College London and biological scientists from the research institutions Institut Pasteur and CNRS in France. Their work was published in the the October 9, 2012 issue of PNAS. Lead researcher Dr. Matthew Fuchter, from Imperial College London, said: "Plasmodium falciparum causes 90 per cent of malaria deaths, and its ability to resist current therapies is spreading dramatically. Whilst many new drugs are in development, a significant proportion are minor alterations, working in the same way as current ones and therefore may only be effective in the short term. We believe we may have identified the parasite’s 'Achilles' Heel, using a molecule that disrupts many vital processes for its survival and development." The research has identified two chemical compounds that affect Plasmodium falciparum's ability to carry out transcription, the key process that translates genetic code into proteins. These compounds are able to kill the parasite during the long period of its complex life cycle while it inhabits the blood-stream.
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