Most malaria drugs are designed to reduce symptoms after infection. They work by blocking replication of the disease-causing parasites in human blood, but they don’t prevent infection or transmission via mosquitoes. What’s worse, the malaria parasite is developing resistance to existing drugs.

“In many ways, the search for new malaria drugs has been a search for something akin to aspirin — it makes you feel better but doesn’t necessarily go after the root of problem,” said Elizabeth Winzeler, PhD, professor of pharmacology and drug discovery at University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

In a study published December 7 in Science, Winzeler and her team took a different approach: targeting the malaria parasite at an earlier stage in its lifecycle, when it initially infects the human liver, rather than waiting until the parasite is replicating in blood and making a person ill.

The team spent two years extracting malaria parasites from  hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes and using robotic technology to systematically test more than 500,000 chemical compounds for their ability to shut down the malaria parasite at the liver stage. After further testing, they narrowed the list to 631 promising compounds that could form the basis for new malaria prevention drugs.

To help speed this effort, the researchers made the findings open source, meaning the data are freely shared with the scientific community.

Read more at University of California – San Diego