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New drug starves malaria parasite to death

A potent new drug vanquishes malaria by literally starving its lethal parasites to death.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by single-celled parasites Plasmodium falciparum, causing severe infection and death in many Asian and African countries.

The research, carried out on a small number of non-human primates, could bolster efforts to develop more potent therapies against one of the world's largest killers, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reports.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2008 (the latest year for which figures are available), between 190 million and 311 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide, killing more than a million people, most of them young children in Africa.

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine led by Vern Schramm, professor of biochemistry, exploited what is arguably P. falciparum's Achilles' heel -- it can't synthesise purines, vital building blocks for making DNA.

Instead, the parasite must make purines indirectly, by using an enzyme called purine nucleoside phosphorylase (PNP). By inhibiting PNP, the drug BCX4945 kills the parasites by starving them of the purines they need to survive.

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