Researchers Look at Insect Fungi for Malaria Medicine

Scientists in Thailand have discovered that insect fungi found in the region may help combat malaria, according to a news report this week.

The Bangkok Post reported Monday that the research into the medicinal use of insect fungi may help combat the strains of malaria that are resistant to the current drugs.

“It’s a very, very new science. There are only three or four experts worldwide,” Yodhathai Thebraranonth, head of a research team at the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, was quoted as saying by the Post.

While the insect fungi is widely used in pest control, scientists have only recently begun to study their medicinal attributes, the newspaper said.

The fungi are found in soil, decayed wood, mangroves and seeds, Yodhathai told the paper. Scientists are increasingly seeking out tropical species of insect fungi in their quest to find cures for AIDS and cancer, the paper said.

The Thai center has one of the world’s largest collections of insect fungi, with more than 900 strains representing150 species, the Post said. At least 100 strains are believed to be new, Yod­hathai told the paper.

Thai researchers hope the research will lead to a new class of anti-malaria drugs in their quest to eradicate the mosquito-borne disease from the region.

Current drugs, including chlor­oquine and mefloquine, are derived from quinine, the drug that has been used since the turn of the century to treat malaria. Over time, the malaria parasite that is carried by the Anopheles mosquito has developed a resistance to the drugs. Such drug resistance is widespread across Southeast Asia.

Derivatives of a new drug called artemisinin have recently been combined with mefloquine, the Post said.

“Artemisinin is the best and newest drug we have now. It’s the last frontier against the disease,” Yodhathai, who is a chemistry professor at Mahidol University, was quoted as saying. “The bad news is resistance was observed recently.”

New drugs, possibly based on the insect fungi, could help bring down this wall of resistance. A new class of drugs would be “something that the parasites have never seen before,” Yod­hathai told the Post.

“It doesn’t have to be a better drug. Just something that stops the spread differently,” he said.


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