The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) recently awarded a total of $11.5 million to a team of researchers from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, the University of Notre Dame and the Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) to examine how the gene of the Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite controls resistance to drugs.
Commonly transmitted through the bite of Aedes aegypti-species mosquito, malaria is a highly infectious disease with symptoms including fever, vomiting, headaches, yellow skin and seizures. According to the Lancet, more than 730,000 people succumbed to the disease’s lethal effects in 2015 alone.
While the death toll remains high, the numbers of malaria deaths have dropped by approximately 60 percent since 2000 due to efficiency gains of antimalarial drugs, according to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. However, researchers have observed the disease has built up a resistance to these drugs in many instances.
“Unfortunately, evolution of resistance to drug treatment complicates efforts to control malaria,” Tim Anderson, a researcher with the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, said. “The aim of our team is to identify the parasite genes that underlie resistance, to determine how frequently resistance arises, to monitor the spread of resistance and then to use this information to help design treatment strategies that can prevent resistance from arising in the first place.”
For the study, the researchers will create the genetic crosses of the malaria parasite using a “humanized” mouse strain. First developed by the CIDR, the technique involves researchers genetically engineering mice with livers consisting of more than 90 percent human cells in order to generate large numbers of parasite progeny rapidly.
“Genetic crosses, in which we mate two parasites together and look at the characteristics of their offspring, have been an incredibly powerful tool to use with malaria parasites, but they are extremely difficult to do because they require use of a human or chimpanzee,” Anderson said.
He continued, stating that the three crosses were done in the past 25 years resulted in the identification of parasite genes underlying resistance to multiple malaria drugs and informed multiple areas of parasite biology.
Anderson added that the new method was cheaper by utilizing mice instead of chimpanzees, thereby allowing the scientists to examine a larger research pool.