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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April, 2003, 05:36 GMT 06:36 UK
Malaria treatment 'breakthrough'
Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw
Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw is part of the Edinburgh team
Scientists at a Scottish University claim they have made a breakthrough in finding a permanent treatment for malaria.

Researchers at Edinburgh University's Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology said they have isolated part of a protein which allows the disease to become resistant to new treatments.

The team's findings, which have been published in the journal Nature Structural Biology, could lead to a new generation of drugs being designed to fight the condition.

Malaria kills over a million people a year and is second only to tuberculosis in its impact on world health.

There are four main types of the disease, all spread via mosquitoes. The most serious forms can affect the kidneys and brain and can cause anaemia, coma and death.

It is present in 90 countries and infects one in 10 of the world's population - mainly those in sub-tropical climates.

The number of people dying from malaria is now higher than it was 30 years ago.

Drug resistance

A significant factor in this is thought to be the disease's ability to become resistant to drug treatments.

Scientists from Edinburgh University have been working with the Biotec Institute in Bangkok to study the protein responsible for drug resistance in malaria.

They said the key lies in a protein called DHFR, which the parasite produces to keep itself alive.

Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes
Tests using genetic engineering techniques have isolated the part of the protein which changes to protect itself against pyrimethamine - a chemical used in anti-malarial drugs.

Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw, of Edinburgh University, said: "We can now use this protein structure to design a new generation of drugs which makes it possible to overcome resistant strains of malaria.

"People have studied this protein for a long time, but until now, no one has been able to determine its detailed structure. This is a real breakthrough.

"Drug resistance is a major issue for all infectious diseases, not just malaria."

The research has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, which hopes to use the findings to help develop medicines for people living in and travelling to regions afflicted by malaria.

Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw
"We are trying to understand one of the resistant mechanisms."

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