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WPI wins NIH grant to study components of a potentially potent, low-cost malaria treatment
Date:7/15/2014

WORCESTER, Mass. With a three-year, $420,000 award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a team of researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will test a plant-based therapy it is developing that may prove to be a highly effective and low-cost treatment for malaria, one of the world's most prevalent and deadly infectious diseases.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 200 million people contracted malaria in 2012 and some 627,000mostly children under the age of 5died from the disease. Caused by a mosquito-borne parasite, the illness is reported in nearly 100 countries and threatens nearly half of the world's population.

Led by Pamela Weathers, PhD, professor of biology and biotechnology, the WPI team is testing a therapy that consists of dried leaves from the sweet wormwood plant, Artemisia annua. The plant produces a compound called artemisinin, which in combination with other antimalarial drugs is the primary treatment for malaria today.

Unfortunately, artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) is expensive to produce and is often in short supply in areas hit hardest by the disease. In addition, while the combination therapy is designed to be less prone to the drug resistance that has rendered previous antimalarial agents ineffective, the malaria parasite is beginning to show signs of resistance to ACT, particularly in Southeast Asia. "Malaria remains a major global health crisis and the increasing drug resistance is alarming," Weathers said. "Our ultimate goal is to make an easy-to-produce therapy available to the people who need it most."

Artemisia annua has been used as an herbal therapy for thousands of years, typically as a tea infusion to treat fever. Today, artemisinin, the principal therapeutic compound in the plant, is extracted, purified, and combined with other drugs to make ACT. Weathers's team takes a different approach, using dried whole leaves from Artemisia annua as a medicat
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Contact: Michael Cohen
mcohen@wpi.edu
508-868-4778
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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