Plastids in parasites of humans


New drugs to fight malaria

& manage resistance

The McFadden Lab had a central role in identifying a new organelle in malaria parasites that is now referred to as the apicoplast.  Apicoplasts share the same evolutionary heritage as the green structures known as chloroplasts in plants, that is, they arose by endosymbiosis of a cyanobacterium.  Doxycycline, a major malaria prophylactic, kills parasites by blocking the synthesis of proteins in the apicoplast.

Our lab identified about 500 plant-like genes that underpin a range of plant-like biochemical pathways in the malaria parasite apicoplast.  Because these plant-like pathways are radically different to human metabolism, they are excellent drug targets.  Compounds that target exactly these pathways in plant plastids are proving to be a good source of leads for new malaria drugs. 

We are currently exploring the use of genetic traps to manage antimalarial drug resistance.  The trap prevents parasites passing on acquired resistance by reducing both their fertility and ability to spread geographically.