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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 05:21 GMT
Malaria drug offers new hope
Mosquito
Malaria infects half a billion people each year
Scientists are reported to have developed a cure for malaria that has been successfully tested on monkeys.

A team of researchers discovered a drug which stops the disease from spreading by preventing malaria parasites from reproducing.


We have tested this... against human malaria in monkeys and it works

Dr Henri Vial, malaria researcher
The disease is one of the most prevalent and deadly in the world, affecting about half a billion people each year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The new drug could be available for testing on human beings within about two years, reports the American journal Science.

Until now, most anti-malaria drugs have only had limited effectiveness and new strains of the disease have developed which are resistant to treatment.

The team of European and South African scientists said the new drug, called G25, completely cured monkeys infected with the disease in laboratory experiments.

Parasites

Malaria is transmitted to victims by blood-sucking mosquitoes.

Boy awaits malaria vaccine in Mozambique
African countries are particularly affected by malaria

Microscopic parasites enter the victim's blood stream and liver, where they multiply, before entering red blood cells.

There they continue to reproduce, burst the blood cells and infect more red blood cells in an ongoing process.

The parasites can eventually kill 70% of blood cells, causing anaemia, coma and death.

G25 blocks the parasites' ability to multiply in the blood cells by preventing it from making protective membrane, crucial to the parasites' life cycle.

Malaria
500m cases each year
1.5m to 2.7m deaths
90% of cases in Africa

Team leader Dr Henri Vial, from the French National Centre of Scientific Research, said the new drug killed all the parasites within two days.

Other studies suggest that the parasite failed to develop resistance to the new drug, even though researchers encouraged it to do so.

Malaria kills almost 3m people, mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia, each year, according to WHO figures.

One of the main drawbacks to G25 is that it has to be injected, although tablet form should be available within two years.

"For people from Africa or from Asia it is more safe to take the drug orally," said Mr Vial.

Mr Vial said that while it worked well, G25 was not the definitive cure and work was already under way to develop an improved version.

See also:

29 Dec 01 | Health
Goats may provide malaria vaccine
08 Dec 01 | Health
'Encouraging' malaria vaccine
15 May 01 | Health
The anti-malaria drug dilemma
31 Dec 00 | Health
Scientists 'block malaria'
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