Tougher Drugs For A Hardier Strain Of Malaria

Well-controlled after World War II, malaria has come back in Southeast Asia, Africa, and throughout Latin America. The pathogens that spread it have either mutated to become drug-resistant or evolved ways to "spit out" the drugs. More than 1 million people, mainly children, die from malaria each year.

Hopes for a new treatment come from the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, a research center in Shrewsbury, Mass. The work, reported in the Sept. 15 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, hinges on new antisense drugs. Strands of DNA called oligonucleotides are tailored to enter only red blood cells infected by the malaria parasite. Once inside, lab tests show, they block the synthesis of proteins crucial to the parasite's growth. Researchers must test the technique in mice, then do clinical trials, before treating people. But already, they see the new tool working against any drug-resistant microbe or pathogen--including flu viruses and tuberculosis bacteria.