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How HIV drugs can also target tropical parasites

10 May 2011

Drugs used to treat HIV may form templates for lifesaving drugs targeted at malaria and other parasitic diseases, according to a new study from Cardiff University.

While scientists know that some anti-HIV drugs can kill pathogenic parasites, it was not understood how this works. Researchers have now identified a specific protein, Ddi 1 from Leishmania parasites that is sensitive to anti-HIV inhibitors. This identification has the potential to significantly change the treatment of parasitic diseases, which present a serious threat to global health.

Dr Colin Berry, Cardiff School of Biosciences, one of the researchers involved, said: "People in developing countries can be exposed to parasitic diseases such as malaria and leishmaniasis that can kill millions of people, so new and effective drugs are urgently needed to combat these infections.

"The use of existing anti-HIV agents has indicated that there is a potential target in some parasites and by identifying the protein responsible, we hope to exploit this weakness in the parasite to develop new and effective therapeutics to combat these devastating diseases."

The study was carried out by Dr Berry’s team and collaborators from GlaxoSmithKline’s Medicines Research Centre. It was supported by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Collaborative Award in Science and Engineering.

The team studied yeast that lacked the Ddi protein and examined the effects of adding the protein and HIV inhibitors. When using human Ddi 1, they also identified drugs that could block the activity of the Leishmania protein, but which were much weaker against the human equivalent, suggesting that possible side effects in a future drug could be reduced.

HIV proteinase inhibitors target the Ddi1-like protein of Leishmania parasites’ is published in the May edition of the FASEB Journal. Published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology, it is the most cited biology journal worldwide.


Notes to editors

1. For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Dr Colin Berry

Cardiff School of Biosciences

029 2087 4508

Jessica Kelly

Public Relations Office

Cardiff University

029 2087 0298

2. Cardiff School of Biosciences

Cardiff School of Biosciences is one of the largest bioscience departments in the UK. It is known world-wide for work across a wide range of fields and includes two Nobel Prize winners (Professors Robert Huber and Sir Martin Evans) among its researchers. Research at the School is focused within six major areas: biodiversity, connective tissue biology, genetics, microbiology, molecular cell biology and neuroscience.

The School houses the Common Cold Centre, the world’s only centre dedicated to researching and testing new medicines for treatment of the symptoms of flu and the common cold. It also directs the newly-funded Arthritis Research Campaign and Cancer Research UK research centres.

Following the latest independent assessment of teaching quality, all courses at the School were rated as ‘excellent’, the highest rating attainable. Cardiff is renowned for its Biosciences Field Courses which rank among the best on offer at any British university. Recently the School has added to this capacity by opening a field centre in Sabah, Malaysia in conjunction with the Malaysian Wildlife Trust.