Published On: Thu, Jan 18th, 2018

Artificially Intelligent found: Toothpaste ingredient could fight malaria


An artificially-intelligent (AI) has found that an ingredient commonly found in toothpaste, Triclosan, could be developed to fight drug-resistant strains of malaria.

This discovery, led by researchers at the University of Cambridge, and was published at the Scientific Reports journal, was aided by an artificially-intelligent ‘robot scientist’ called Eve.

Malaria kills over half a million people every year, mainly children in the poorest parts of Africa and south-east Asia.

When an infected mosquito bites someone, the malaria parasites work their way into the bloodstream via their saliva. Then they move into the liver, where they mature and reproduce. After a few days, they move and hijack red blood cells, where to continue to multiply, and spread around the body. Here they are causing the symptoms, including fever and potentially life-threatening complications.

According to the study triclosan showed a potential to interrupt malaria infections at two critical stages – in the liver and the blood.

Malaria can be treated with a number of drugs, but its parasites are growing increasingly resistant to these drugs, raising the risk that some strains may become untreatable in the future.

Now, the new study discovered that the triclosan may help the fight against drug-resistance.

When used in toothpaste, triclosan prevents the build-up of plaque bacteria by inhibiting the action of an enzyme known as enoyl reductase (ENR), which is involved in the production of fatty acids.

Scientists have known for some time that triclosan also inhibits the growth in culture of the malaria parasite Plasmodium during the blood-stage, and assumed that this was because it was targeting ENR, which is found in the liver. However, subsequent work showed that improving triclosan’s ability to target ENR had no effect on parasite growth in the blood.

AI robot ‘Eve’ discovered that in fact, triclosan affects parasite growth by specifically inhibiting an entirely different enzyme of the malaria parasite, called DHFR.

This enzyme is the target of a well-established antimalarial drug, pyrimethamine – the drug malaria parasites are developing resistance, particularly in Africa. The Cambridge team study showed that triclosan was able to target and act on this enzyme even in pyrimethamine-resistant parasites.

Professor Steve Oliver from the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge says “Drug-resistant malaria is becoming an increasingly significant threat in Africa and south-east Asia, and our medicine chest of effective treatments is slowly depleting.”The search for new medicines is becoming increasingly urgent.”

Because triclosan inhibits both ENR and DHFR, the researchers say it may be possible to target the parasite at both the liver stage and the later blood stage.

Lead author Dr. Elizabeth Bilsland adds: “The discovery by our robot ‘colleague’ Eve that triclosan is effective against malaria targets offers hope that we may be able to use it to develop a new drug.”

The Al robot scientist Eve was developed to automate – and hence speed up – the drug discovery process.

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