Biology Professor's New Studies Offer Help For Malaria Research

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Two new studies published by Dr. Roland Cooper and colleagues address key challenges faced by malaria researchers – logistics of working in clinical laboratories located in remote areas where malaria is endemic, primarily rural Africa, and the development of new lead compounds to combat drug-resistant malaria.

Dr. Cooper, a professor of Biological Sciences at Dominican University of California, and colleagues from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), led by Dr. Philip Rosenthal and with the support of their Ugandan partners from the Infectious Disease Research Collaboration, have been studying malaria, a parasitic disease caused by the blood parasite Plasmodium falciparum, for more than a decade in eastern Uganda (see related NPR story).

A study led by Dr. Cooper to be published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy – entitled “Impact of short-term storage on ex vivo antimalarial susceptibilities of fresh Ugandan Plasmodium falciparum isolates” – addresses the problem of how to store live clinical parasite specimens obtained from far-away outposts.

“The collection of parasite specimens from malaria patients often occurs at small health outposts located far from the main clinical laboratory in Tororo, a small town in eastern Uganda near the Kenya border,” Dr. Cooper says. “We wanted to make sure that storage and transportation of our parasite samples in the refrigerator or on cold packs, for up to two days, did not affect the quality of our subsequent analyses and studies.”

Importantly, Dr. Cooper notes, the study’s results validated an approach that malaria field researchers often use because of complex logistics. Martin Okitwi, a Ugandan researcher, led the field aspects of study, collecting blood samples from 160 malaria patients and testing their sensitivity to a variety of commonly used antimalarial drugs. Dr. Brett Bayles, an assistant professor in the Global Public Health program in the School of Health and Natural Sciences at Dominican, performed the statistical analyses in the study, and appears as a contributing author. 

Dr. Cooper also is a co-author of a second paper, entitled “Discovery and preclinical pharmacology of INE963, a potent and fast-acting blood-stage antimalarial with a high barrier to resistance and potential for single-dose cures in uncomplicated malaria.”

Dr. Cooper says that study, published in The Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, was led by two scientists from the Global Chemistry Discovery Unit from Novartis Corporation in Emeryville, CA, and funded by the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases. Dr. Cooper and his colleagues contributed potency data against clinical malaria isolates for the new compound at their field site in Tororo, Uganda.

“This is a very exciting and highly potent new experimental antimalarial compound, one in which researchers were unable to generate parasite resistance to in the laboratory setting,” he says.

For more details on Dr. Cooper’s malaria research in Uganda, see the recent story “Researchers Highlight Urgent Need For New Malaria Treatments.” 



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