Sept. 16 - Researchers at the University of Cape Town say they may be close to finding a cure for malaria following their discovery of a compound that disrupts the malaria parasite's lifecycle in animal models, effectively destroying it. The researchers are optimistic that future trials will demonstrate the compound's efficacy in humans. Tara Cleary reports.
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Carried by the female anopheles mosquito, the parasites that cause malaria have perplexed scientists for generations.
Conventional drugs are not always effective, and the parasites often develop a resistance to them.
But researchers at the University of Cape Town led by Professor Kelly Chibale say that's about to change.
The team has discovered a new drug that could become the foundation of a cure.
SOUNDBITE: PROFESSOR KELLY CHIBALE, HEAD OF RESEARCH, UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN, SAYING (English):
"What we found was this molecule we have discovered is far superior in terms of actually curing animals infected with the malaria parasite just with a single low dose of the drug."
The next phase for the drug will be clinical trials with humans
Africa's hospitals are crammed with victims of malaria, hundreds of thousands of whom die from the disease each year.
But tested in mice, the scientists say their compound disrupts the malaria parasite's lifecycle, killing it and curing its host of the disease.
And after 18 months of research, the parasites showed no signs of developing resistance to the compound.
Professor Lucille Blumberg of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. says it's a breakthrough.
SOUNDBITE: PROFESSOR LUCILLE BLUMBERG, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR COMMUNICABLE DISEASE, SAYING (English):
"It's a new class of drugs so cross resistant malaria drugs which parasites may develop resistance at some time is not going to be a problem, so I think that particularly is going to be important and seems to be a very potent drug."
It may take more than five years before the new drug reaches the market, but researchers are confident that when that happens, it will save lives wherever malaria exists.
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