Thai space research advances progress on malaria drug

Thai scientists are shooting for the stars to cure an earth-bound disease.

A research project conducted in earth orbit and designed by Thai scientists has yielded results they hope will advance progress on finding a drug to cure malaria, the deadly mosquito-borne disease that infects over 200 million people a year.

Chairat Uthaipipull, a senior researcher at Thailand’s National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC), formulated the project that sent proteins into space for study and experiments. A Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center in the United States carried the compounds into space.

According to the Science Daily website, the parasites responsible for malaria rely on a protein found in human liver cells to develop into a form capable of infecting red blood cells and causing disease.

Chairat told reporters that crystallizing the protein is essential for researchers to design drugs that can do a better job of binding to the protein. Hopefully, scientists can use the information to develop a drug to block the parasites from using the protein, he said.

“When we see the protein’s structure clearly, it’s like we have found a key to a padlock. Crystallization of the protein was better in space as there is no gravity, and the crystals can be created in the most natural manner possible,” Chairat said.

“Then we will be able to create a 3D structure of the protein to see how it looks. This will help us design a drug that can bind to this protein well, and if we can stop this protein – which is the virus’s core – from activity, then the virus will die,” Chairat said.

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