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Fighting Malaria with Moldy Cereal

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June 3, 2020

Fighting Malaria with Moldy Cereal

Regents’ Professor and the director of the Institute for Natural Product Applications and Research Technologies, Robert Cichewicz, with Debopam Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Central Florida, recently received a $3.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to use fungus-derived compounds to develop better treatments for malaria.

As published in Science Blog, the researchers found that the “doughnut-shaped cereal, Cheerios, provides the ideal growing condition to cultivate fungi that are being studied for their ability to kill the parasite that causes malaria.”

Their preliminary screening identified more than 150 fungal extracts and compounds with potent antimalarial activities. The five-year project aims to narrow this number to 25 compounds with antimalarial benefits at various stages of infection that can be developed into therapeutic drugs.

“Our work combines Debopam’s tremendous knowledge of malaria with my team’s natural products experience and resources,” Cichewicz said. “Specifically, (my team has) built what I believe to be the world’s largest fungus-focused natural products drug discovery collection in academia. We now have over 65,000 fungi and the natural products made by them, which is estimated to consist of perhaps millions of new drug-like molecules. The majority of the collection has been made possible through our pioneering efforts engaging citizen scientists across the United States. This program is the first and longest running program of its kind aimed at sourcing natural products in partnership with the public for the purpose of drug discovery.”

This immense natural products collection has been applied to solving problems related to the need for new drugs to treat cancers, bacterial and fungal infections, parasitic diseases, and much more.

“We are so excited to now be partnering with Debopam to use this one-of-a-kind collection to address the challenges of fighting drug-resistant malarial infections,” Cichewicz said. “I anticipate this partnership has the potential to provide new and valuable chemical matter that will serve as the basis for better understanding malaria, find new avenues for combating drug-resistant parasite strains, and provide hope to those suffering from this debilitating and deadly disease.”