Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass researchers develop novel malaria plant-based therapy


University of Massachusetts microbiology Professor Stephen Rich and UMass Ph.D. candidate Mostafa Elfawal have been working on a plant-based malaria drug that has the potential to replace the current treatments targeting the disease.

Malaria is a disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite and transmitted through infected mosquitoes. According to the World Health Organization, there were about 207 million cases of malaria in 2012, and an estimated 627, 000 deaths.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs, a type of treatment using a chemical found in the plant Artemisia annua.

Although relatively effective, ACTs tend to be expensive, limiting their availability in many countries affected by malaria, and they do not prevent the rapid emergence of drug-resistant pathogens.

The team, led by Rich, came up with an alternative that is significantly cheaper to produce and possibly a much better treatment than current ACTs. According to a release from Science Daily, this drug is made out of the dried leaves of the plant Artemisia, creating its own category of antimalarial artemisinin named pACTs.

The research group tested their plant-based drug in rodents to better observe the effects. The infected mice were treated with the drug designed by the researchers, while simulating the environmental and evolutionary conditions of the disease in the wild. According to Rich, he and Elfawal conducted a series of artificial selection experiments, in which their drug appear to be over three times more powerful than ACTs at preventing the parasites from becoming resistant.

This potentially means that the drug could offer a more permanent solution than the current methods, potentially making the drug last a longer time in circulation without being replaced, as stated by Rich.

“The capacity for our drug to slow down the rate of evolution of resistant parasites is what makes it promising for having a larger lifespan than other treatments,” Rich said.

Rich mentioned that although coming up with a cheap and efficient treatment for malaria is of great significance, the lack of a market for malaria drugs prevents them from experiencing significant competition with major pharmaceutical companies. However, one of their challenges is overcoming the skepticism of the scientific community.

“Our biggest obstacle right now is the prejudice from colleagues,” Rich said. “We came up with a very simple solution, which makes them think that it can’t be correct.”

According to Rich, the research team is currently receiving assistance from MassBiologics, a drug development and manufacturing group from UMass Medical School, to conduct experiments to prepare their treatment for phase one clinical trials.

The main goal of this team is to be able to translate their results into humans, hopefully offering a low cost, locally grown and more efficient approach that could facilitate the distribution of this drug to developing countries in which malaria is a critical problem.

Cecilia Prado can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @thececiliaprado.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *