Malaria research receives NIH grant

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The fight against malaria has taken a new turn with the research of Marvin Meyers, Director of Chemistry at the Center for World Health and Medicine at Saint Louis University. Meyers and his research team recently identified two new classes of compounds that could have the potential to be used in the future in antimalarial drugs. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) granted $566,000 to the Center for World Health and Medicine for further study of these compounds and their effectiveness against the malaria parasite.

The malaria project was initiated three years ago, when Dan Goldberg, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, identified a protein, called plasmepsin V, in the malaria parasite that could be a potential target for antimalarial drugs. Plasmepsin V was similar in structure to a protein that has been targeted for Alzheimer’s disease, ?-secretase. Meyers and his team worked to see if inhibitors for ?-secretase, which block protein activity, would also inhibit plasmepsin V.

Meyers found that one of the inhibitors was active for plasmepsin V as well. He and his team attempted to optimize the compounds with the inhibitors, leading to the inhibitors losing effectiveness against plasmepsin V, but gaining effectiveness against the parasite as a whole.

At this stage in his research, Meyers successfully applied for and received a grant from the NIH to continue work on his malaria research. A factor in the successful grant application was the collaboration on the malaria project between the Center for World Health and Medicine and the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, which is receiving a matching grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Meyers also believes that the NIH granted money to the malaria project due to the quality of the research.

“I think that they recognized the quality of the science and the potential for the project, and that led them to fund us,” Meyers said.

According to Meyers, undergraduate involvement may have also played a role in SLU obtaining the grant.

“We use this project to help train undergraduate students. We’ve had two former students working on this project, and we now have two seniors working here as well, and they’ve really made a nice impact,” Meyers said.

Meyers and his team have two goals for the NIH’s three-year grant. First, they hope to increase by tenfold the strength of the compounds that they have already found to be effective against the malaria parasite. This process could lead to the identification of clinical candidates for a new antimalarial drug. Second, Meyers and his team hope to identify the protein that their compounds are inhibiting, which could lead to new antimalarial compounds being discovered.

If all goes well, Meyers and his team hope to eventually optimize a compound that can be put in a pill, and taken as medicine for malaria. Such a pill, when combined with existing antimalarial drugs, could go a long way towards the ultimate goal of eradicating malaria from the world.