Last week, we brought you the story that Gin and Tonic could cure malaria. In the article, we shared that the drink contains Quinine powder which was historically used to treat and prevent malaria. This week, we have a similar story to share, another potential cure to malaria.

Toothpaste.

There is a real sense of urgency to discover and develop new treatments for malaria. It still remains one of the worlds biggest killers with billions of people at risk.

But now a recent study by the University of Cambridge has revealed that an ingredient commonly found in toothpaste could help disrupt malaria infections in the liver and the blood. If you are unfamiliar as to how someone is infected with malaria, we recommend listening to our podcast: The Science of Malaria.

However to summarise, malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that involves a mosquito biting a human and injecting malaria parasites that make their way to red blood cells where they multiply and spread. The symptoms of malaria include fever, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and constipation.

The scientists working on this research were accompanied by an AI (Artificial Intelligence) robot called Eve who conducted High Throughput Screening (HTS). Details of the research and conclusion can be found in their report available in the journal, Scientific Reports.

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What is High Throughput Screening?

High Throughput Screening is a method used in the pharmaceutical industry whereby robots are use to discover drugs. It utilises automation to determine the content of biological or biochemical activity of a large number of drug-like compounds.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2016, there were 216 million cases of malaria and over 445,000 deaths caused by malaria. In some areas of Africa, people don’t have access to mosquito nets or repellents and as such are vulnerable to malaria infection. Professor Steve Oliver who works in the Systems Biology Centre at the University said that: “The search for new medicines is becoming increasingly urgent.”

And as funds for malaria initiatives decrease, vital life saving tools have become scarce, according to a WHO report from November 2017. Much more needs to be done to reduce malaria deaths. Here at Fight Malaria, our aim is to raise awareness of malaria through accessible educational resources which are distributed worldwide.

What is this special ingredient found in toothpaste?

The ingredient that is commonly found in toothpaste is called Triclosan and is used in toothpaste to help prevent the buildup of plaque. Scientists have known for a considerable amount of time now that Tricolsan was able to stop the growth of malaria parasites at the blood level by targeting an enzyme called enoyl reductase (ENR) however this new study has revealed that Tricolsan also attacks a different malaria parasite enzyme called DHFR.

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Triclosan’s ability to target the same enzyme could be a huge health win as malaria is quickly developing resistance to the the commonly used malaria drug, antimalarial pyrimethamine, that currently targets DHFR.

The research, conducted by the University of Cambridge, has indicated that Triclosan could target and act on this enzyme even in pyrimethamine-resistant parasites.

“The discovery by our robot colleague that Triclosan is effective against malaria targets offers hope that we may be able to use it to develop a new drug,” Elizabeth Bilsland, who co-led the study, said in an interview with Reuters. “We know it is a safe compound, and its ability to target two points in the malaria parasite’s lifecycle means the parasite will find it difficult to evolve resistance.”

But what type of toothpaste contains Tricolsan?

According to EWP Skin Deep, a selection of the Colgate Total toothpastes contain Tricolsan.

What food or drink item will it be next? Whatever the discovery may be, check the Fight Malaria Blog for the latest updates from us and our community of contributors.

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