New study could improve diagnosis and treatment of malaria

Written by: Nairita Das
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Washington, Sep 9 (ANI): After examining genomic features of a population of malaria parasites in Peru, researchers have found that it is possible to improve the efficacy of diagnosis and treatment strategies for drug-resistant malaria.

In the study, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute, the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF), and the U. S. Naval Research Detachment in Peru identified the genetic basis for resistance to a common antibiotic.

Elizabeth Winzeler and colleagues expected that by using genomic methods to analyse the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum in a geographic area where malaria had been previously eradicated and recently re-emerged, they could identify positively selected regions of the genome that contained genes underlying drug resistance.

The team chose to study malaria parasites in Iquitos, a city in the Amazonian lowlands of Peru- an ideal choice for studying the genomic features of drug resistance as malaria was eliminated there in the 1960s, but re-emerged in the 1990s.

Using microarrays to scan the genome of P. falciparum isolated from 14 patients in Iquitos, Winzeler's group analyzed and compared genetic variation between the isolates, searching for selected regions.

"We were surprised to find that the parasite populations in Peru were much more homogeneous than expected," said Winzeler.

The data suggested that the malaria parasites from Iquitos patients were closely related, with some patients harbouring parasites that were nearly clones of each other.

Winzeler explained that although the high similarity of the parasite genomes hindered their efforts to identify regions under selection, their analysis uncovered critical findings that could have a significant impact on the diagnosis and treatment of malaria.

The team's data indicated that there is significant genetic instability in regions near the telomere, the repetitive DNA sequences that protects the ends of chromosomes from damage.

Because a malaria rapid diagnostic test relies on detection of a protein encoded by a subtelomeric gene, use of these tests could result in missed diagnoses.

Furthermore, the work identified a gene that could change the course of treatment for some infected patients.

"Our findings emphasize the importance of placing new antimalarial compounds in the drug development pipeline, especially compounds with novel mechanisms of actions," added Winzeler.

The study has been published online in the journal Genome Research. (ANI)

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