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UCSD researchers make progress toward better drug treatment for malaria

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - After more than 500,000 chemical tests, a group of UC San Diego researchers announced on Thursday they have made progress in finding a possible drug compound that could impede malaria parasites.

Most currently available malaria drugs generally target the replication of malaria parasites once a host has been infected. Those drugs fail to prevent malaria infection or transmission, however, and certain malaria parasites are adapting to current treatments and building resistance.

The research team spent roughly two years separating malaria parasites from mosquitoes to test more than 500,000 chemical and drug compounds for their ability to restrain the malaria parasite earlier. The researchers also made their findings open source for other scientists during the testing stage to speed up the process.

The results of the study will be published Friday in the journal Science.

"In many ways, the search for new malaria drugs has been a search for something akin to aspirin -- it makes you feel better but doesn't necessarily go after the root of problem," said Elizabeth Winzeler, a professor of pharmacology and drug discovery at the UCSD School of Medicine.

The research team eventually found 631 chemical compounds that could eventually lead to new drugs that keep a malaria infection from developing. The researchers studied malaria parasites that only affect mice, so the next step according to Winzeler is to test the remaining 631 on malaria parasites that infect humans. Scientists outside of the research team will also be able to conduct their own research due to the compounds remaining open source.

"It's our hope that, since we're not patenting these compounds, many other researchers around the world will take this information and use it in their own labs and countries to drive antimalarial drug development forward," Winzeler said.

Malaria cases have increased in more than a dozen countries around the world, according to the World Health Organization, which recorded roughly 219 million malaria cases in 2017, two million more than the number of recorded cases in 2016. Roughly 435,000 people died due to malaria in 2017, according to WHO statistics.

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