Malaria cure 'breakthrough' announced by city scientists
Scientists at the University of Leicester say they have made a breakthrough in the fight against malaria.
Professor Andrew Tobin, from the department of cell physiology and pharmacology, believe the findings could pave the way for developing new drugs to treat the disease which kills a child in Africa every 45 seconds.
It takes only a single bite from a female mosquito with malaria parasite Plasmodium to infect a human.
Through their research the scientists have identified the group of enzymes, called protein kinases, which are essential to the survival of the parasite.
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He said they were now working with pharmaceutical companies to develop a drug which could stop these enzymes working and kill the parasite.
Prof Tobin predicted an anti-malarial drug could be "five to 10" years away and said he was "very excited" about the possibilities.
He said: "It seems perfectly realistic to us that we can now develop anti-malaria drugs based on the findings that we have made. It certainly is a big moment in our fight against a terrible disease that mainly affects the world's poorest people."
Prof Tobin said up until now the parasite had adapted to drug treatments and become resistant to drugs.
Using drugs which targeted a protein which was highly specific to a parasite lessened its chances of becoming resistant.
Prof Tobin and his scientists collaborated with a team led by Professor Christian Doering of Monash University, in Australia.
Prof Tobin said: "We are working very closely with pharmaceutical companies at the moment. Most of the people that suffer from malaria are children and pregnant women and so any drug would have to be incredibly safe.
"I would say to get from the stage we are now to a final tablet could be seven to 10 years."
The research project was part-funded by a £500,000 grant Prof Tobin was given by The Wellcome Trust.
According to the World Health Organisation malaria currently infects more than 225 million people worldwide and accounts for one million deaths per year.
Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where the disease accounts for approximately 20 per cent all childhood deaths.
Senior health and HIV policy advisor at Oxfam GB Dr Mohga Kamal-Yanni, said: "Oxfam welcomes new developments in research for malaria treatment.
"There is already drug resistance to medicine currently available, which has started at the Thai-Cambodian border.
"We are worried that resistance could spread."