Monash has malaria under the microscope

The battle against malaria takes place on many fronts: from finding new drugs to finding new targets for drugs, to finding better ways to diagnose the infection.

In an article published in the October issue of Monash: Delivering Impact magazine, some of the university’s key researchers talk about their work with malaria, and the promise for breakthroughs against this devastating disease.

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Many of the anti-malaria drugs being optimised for clinical use pass through the lab of Professor Susan Charman, director of the Centre for Drug Candidate Optimisation at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

In work that has earned Monash University Professor Charman five Project of the Year awards from the World Health Organisation’s Medicines for Malaria Venture, her lab has been pivotal in the development of some of the most advanced new antimalarial drugs so far, including the potential for a single-dose cure.

Professor Charman’s expertise in phamarcokinetics—optimising the way a drug is processed inside the body—is complemented by the work Monash researchers are undertaking in a range of different fields.

In the Monash Department of Microbiology, accomplished researchers Professor Christian Doerig and Professor Brian Cooke are both looking at different aspects of a class of molecules called kinases. These are regulatory molecules that have considerable potential as drug targets.

Associate Professor Garcia-Bustos, in the same department, is also on the track of targets, working with antimalarial compounds.

Dr Sheena McGowan, in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, takes another angle, looking at proteases, molecules that cut up other proteins. Malaria, like AIDS, requires proteases to survive and Dr McGowan is working on a strategy to starve the parasite by inhibiting specific proteases.

And Associate Professor Bayden Wood in the Monash School of Chemistry has developed a new diagnostic tool inspired by Dr McCoy’s medical tricorder in Star Trek.

Using a spectrometer, an instrument that can “read” light’s telltale signatures, Associate Professor Wood and his team have been able to detect a signal from malaria that allows easy identification even at a very early stage of infection.

As Professor Cooke said, “In terms of malaria, we might be unique at Monash in that we can go from basic research all the way through to biomedical engineering, clinical applications and drug delivery.”


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