FRIDAY, Sept. 21, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes carrying malaria parasites, but scientists report they have discovered compounds that might keep mosquitoes from spreading the sometimes deadly disease.
"Current anti-malarial drugs can cure a person of the disease, but that person is still infectious to mosquitoes, and can therefore still cause someone else to become infected," explained lead researcher Jake Baum, of the department of life sciences at Imperial College London.
"What we propose is anti-malarial drugs that protect mosquitoes, blocking the parasites from continuing their infectious journey," Baum said in a college news release. "By combining such a drug with a conventional anti-malarial, we not only cure the individual person, but protect the community as well."
People who get malaria usually develop high fevers, chills and flu-like symptoms. The disease claims nearly 450,000 lives around the world each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People diagnosed with the disease can be treated with drugs that destroy the replicating form of the parasite, but dormant sexual forms may remain, the researchers explained.
These dormant parasites can be transmitted to mosquitoes that bite infected people. Once transferred, these dormant parasites mature, multiply and gather in the mosquito's salivary glands where they are ready to infect others who are bitten by the insect.
But the researchers identified compounds that could stop the spread of malaria by making malaria parasites incapable of infecting mosquitoes. After screening more than 70,000 compounds, the team pinpointed six with the potential to become malaria-blocking drugs.
Once in mosquitoes, sexual malaria parasites are very active, which makes them ideal drug targets. To identify compounds that could interfere with these sexual parasites, the researchers tricked the parasites into replicating.
"Overall, we screened around 70,000 molecules and found only a handful of potent compounds that are both active and safe to use with human cells," Baum said. "It was like finding needles in a haystack."
The scientists are researching all the compounds to determine exactly how they work and how they could be developed into drugs that are stable enough to be given to person and survive being ultimately transferred to mosquitoes.
The findings were published Sept. 18 in the journal Nature Communications.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about malaria.