A team of researchers lead by Akhil Vaidya at Drexel University’s College of Medicine was recently awarded a $2 million grant to continue malaria research, as announced Feb. 23 in a University press release.
About 40 percent of the human population is at risk of being infected with malaria parasites. Vaidya and his colleagues are working to understand the molecular functioning of the parasites in order to develop new drugs. The National Institutes of Health awarded the grant to fund another four years of research on antimalarial pyrazole compounds. For over 20 years, malaria research has taken place at Drexel.
Vaidya is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and director of the Center of Molecular Parasitology. He is the principal investigator of the malaria study.
Though malaria research has taken place at Drexel for over 20 years, the University also collaborates with other institutions around the world to speed up the research through collaborative efforts.
“We have partners in Australia, Singapore and Switzerland,” Vaidya said.
According to Vaidya, there are about 20 members working on the project — some from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, like professors Lawrence W. Bergman and Sandhya Kortagere and research instructors Joanne Morrisey and Thomas Daly.
Bethany Jenkins, one of the team members, is a graduate student studying microbiology. She has been involved with this project for almost two years.
“There are so many different techniques we can use to approach something in question, but we can’t do it all just at Drexel. So we can outsource some of that to different collaborators who can look at different aspects using their technology and machines that we don’t have available,” she said, describing how the international teams work together.
Treating cases of malaria has become increasingly difficult due to drug resistance. Between India, Africa and South America, there are millions of new cases each year. The push for new drugs is needed in developing nations where current drug combinations are failing.
According to Vaidya, the United States reports about 1,500 new cases of the disease each year.
Research is being done on both the preventative and treatment sides of the disease, which would be vaccines and prescription drugs, respectively.
Drexel is also helping investigators in Mumbai, India to identify new antimalarial components by studying and analyzing various active ingredients of formulas already widely used in Indian clinical studies. This research approach is considered “reverse pharmacology” because the formulas have been introduced into a population. Now, on a molecular scale, their effects are being further analyzed to see what new antimalarial compounds can be identified.
The researchers hope not only that the work will create new drugs but also that unveiling different antimalarial compounds will enable the optimization of current antimalarial drugs that are starting to fail.
The NIH grant follows a previous $1 million grant from Medicines for Malaria Venture, a nonprofit based in Geneva. That particular grant funded research at Drexel for three years.