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Timothy Anderson was given a 2017 MERIT award to aid his study of malaria drug resistance.
By Brittney Martin, San Antonio Express-News
A scientist at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio has received a five-year, $4.6 million grant to study how and why malaria parasites stop responding to drug treatments.
Timothy Anderson studies the genetic makeup of malaria parasites to determine what makes them resistant to treatment and how quickly resistance can spread. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases presented Anderson with a Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award to support his research over the next five years.
Malaria is a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes. About 214 million cases were reported in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading to 438,000 deaths.
According to the World Health Organization, the best treatment for the most deadly type of malaria parasite is an antimalarial drug called artemisinin, used in combination with other antimalarials. Scientists detected the first resistance to artemisinin in 2009.
Anderson's lab in San Antonio is working to determine how, why and where the resistance has spread and will spread.
"Resistance is sort of a universal problem in treatment of any infectious disease," Anderson said. "What we're trying to do is to get people to think about more evolution-proof approaches to treatment."
Anderson said the artemisinin resistance is currently contained to Southeast Asia, but the fear is that it will spread to Africa, where 92 percent of malaria-related deaths occurred in 2015, according to the World Health Organization.
With the award money, Anderson said his lab can try "adventurous" new research approaches, involving growing malaria parasites in the lab and manipulating the genome to better understand the resistance.
"The idea is not to wait for resistance to occur, but to try to treat with drug regimens that will be resistant to resistance development in the first place," Anderson said. "And to do that we really need to know some fundamental aspects about how resistance mutations arise within populations and how many times they arise."
Anderson said his research should lead directly to public health strategies.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, whose district includes San Antonio, congratulated Anderson and praised his research in a statement.
"His work not only contributes to the multi-billion dollar bio-science industry that employs thousands in San Antonio, but it brings us one step closer to curing infectious diseases and saving lives around the globe," Hurd said.
MERIT Award winners are nominated by program staff of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. About 15 awards are issued by the institute each year.