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Tree bark may help fight malaria

8th January 2007

01092006_Mosquito1.jpgA biological compound found in a species of plant native to Madagascar may form the basis of a new malaria drug, a report says.

Scientists have isolated a new molecule from the bark of the plant Strychnopsis thouarsii, which lives in the eastern rain forests on the island.

The molecule, tazopsine, was effective against early, liver-stage malaria parasites in animal tests, according to a report pubished in PLoS Medicine.

This could form the basis for a new treatment targetting the early stages of malaria infection, making it harder for the parasite to develop resistance, a common problem in treating the mosquito-borne disease.

Tazopsine is the sole ingredient in a traditional tea used as a treatment for malaria infection. The authors of the study hope that variants of tazopsine-related molecules can be tested to find one of low toxicity, suitable for clinical trials.

Madagascans have returned to the traditional herbal remedies native to their homeland in recent years, following a resurgence in malaria since the 1980s. More than 200 native plant species are thought to have some role in fighting the disease.

Tazopsine becomes ineffective once the parasite has reached the red blood cells, however.


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