Research Projects

   The Drug Research Unit for Malaria (DRUM) currently has five different core test models under their malaria drug development research program: blood stage, liver stage, hypnozoite stage, drug resistance and high-throughput models. Since the Unit was formed in 2017, it has focused keenly on liver stages and Plasmodium vivax hypnozoites in particular. Eradication of P. vivax malaria is difficult because of the ability of the hypnozoite, the dormant liver-stage form, to cause relapse in patients. Due to the scarcity of robust study models to date for liver-stage malaria parasites, significant research into the hypnozoite phase has been lacking. As a result, prime research projects at DRUM have concentrated on this area, because of the knowledge deficiency, and because hypnozoite research is becoming increasingly recognized as a key driver of antimalarial drug discovery.

Drug Discovery

DRUM in partnership with the Excellent Center for Drug Discovery (ECDD) started high-throughput screening of Thai natural compounds for antimalarial activity. Initially, the compounds were screened against blood-stage forms of Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites. Testing of the compounds against liver-stage forms of malaria parasites using our new robust liver-stage model is also in the works in the Unit. Based on the historically high success rate among natural products, the diversity of chemicals found in nature continues to be an important source of molecular templates in the Unit’s search for new and novel antimalarial drugs.

Anti-P. vivax malaria relapse

A recent exciting accomplishment at DRUM is the development of a new in vitro model for P. vivax hypnozoite formation that offers a significant breakthrough in the characterization of hypnozoite biology and the discovery of anti-relapse interventions. With our in vitro hepatocyte model as our foundation, our research will make substantial contribution to new drug development and to help us understand drug sensitivity and resistance in liver cells.

Field studies

In a major effort to advance the Unit’s malaria research, DRUM has initiated a major collaboration with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) Malaria Evolution in South Asia (MESA) International Center of Excellence for Malaria Research (ICEMR). DRUM supports the MESA-ICEMR program by establishing methods for the study of Plasmodium vivax sporozoite production in Indian mosquitoes and liver-stage infections with Indian sporozoites.