An anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent commonly found in toothpaste, soaps and detergents can be used as a drug against strains of malaria parasite that have grown resistant, a study led by an artificially-intelligent “robot scientist” has revealed.
The study aided by the robot scientist “Eve” discovered that the ingredient “triclosan” affects parasite growth by specifically inhibiting an enzyme of the malaria parasite, called “DHFR”.
“DHFR” is the target of a well-established antimalarial drug, pyrimethamine. However, resistance to the drug among malaria parasites is common, particularly in Africa.
The researchers showed that “triclosan” was able to target and act on this enzyme, even in pyrimethamine-resistant parasites. “The discovery by our robot “colleague” Eve that ‘triclosan’ is effective against malaria targets offers hope that we may be able to use it to develop a new drug,” said lead author Elizabeth Bilsland, Assistant Professor at the University of Campinas in Brazil.
“We know it is a safe compound, and its ability to target two points in the malaria parasite’s lifecycle means the parasite will find it difficult to evolve resistance,” Bilsland added in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.
When used in toothpaste, “triclosan” prevents the build-up of plaque bacteria by inhibiting the action of an enzyme known as enoyl reductase (ENR), which is involved in the production of fatty acids in liver.
But, as the study showed that “triclosan” has the potential to inhibit both ENR and DHFR, it may be possible to target the parasite at both the liver stage and the later blood stage, the researchers said.
Malaria kills over half a million people each year, pre-dominantly in Africa and south-east Asia.
While a number of medicines are used to treat the disease, the malaria parasites are growing increasingly resistant to these drugs, raising the spectre of untreatable malaria in the future.