Dr. James Zimring of the Carter Immunology Center Awarded a $2.9 Million R01 Grant to Investigate Major Barriers to Treating Malaria Worldwide

Dr. James Zimring, MD, PhD

Dr. James Zimring MD, PhD, the Thomas W. Tillack Professor of Experimental Pathology in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, was awarded a $2.9 million R01 grant by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to investigate a major barrier to treating malaria worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization, over 200 million humans contract malaria each year resulting in millions of deaths annually. Although there are safe and effective drugs to cure malaria, when they are available, there is a major problem with available treatments. The genetics of some patients results in the cure being lethal.

Five percent of humans have genetic variants of the G6DP gene such that if they take certain anti-malarial drugs like primaquine and tafenoquine, their body rapidly destroys their own red blood cells, sometimes to the point of death. However, primaquine and tafenoquine are the only approved drugs that can cure one of the major forms of malaria called P. vivax. Therefore, five percent of people are forced to live the rest of their lives with malaria and serve as a constant reservoir to infect those around them, preventing community eradication efforts. Even worse, in some health systems there is no reliable test for G6PD genetic variants. To avoid administering a treatment that could kill five percent of people, neither primaquine nor tafenoquine is given to anyone, so P. vivax cannot be cured at all.

Recently, the Zimring lab has identified the mechanism by which primaquine and tafenoquine are toxic in G6PD deficient individuals. The newly funded studies will refine the understanding of this mechanism with the goal of generating a safe and effective cure for P. vivax malaria that can be used in all patients, regardless of their G6PD genetics. Using this approach, Dr. Zimring’s group has already generated a prototype drug that is being patented by the University of Virginia.

View the article at the SOM website