The main focus of the Protein-Ligand Engineering and Molecular Biology Research Program is on basic and medical biotechnology, with special emphasis on the rational discovery and development of drugs for tropical diseases, especially malaria and other protozoal diseases. The malaria pathogen is a unicellular parasite, of which there are four different species. Of these, Plasmodium falciparum and P. vivax are the most ommon. The most important problems to which to group devote its effort are lack of new drugs and resistance of current drugs, which is prevalent in Thailand and other endemic countries all over the world. Our group has the competitive edge in being one of the very few located in developing countries, with leading position recognized worldwide.
Malaria is estimated to cause up to 500 million clinical cases and over one million deaths throughout the world each year. Malaria also continues to be a major problem in Thailand, especially in the areas bordering Cambodia and Myanmar. P. falciparum infections do not respond to treatment with chloroquine or sulfadoxinepyrimethamine,and sensitivity to quinine is reduced, while treatment with mefl oquine shows a 50% failure rate. Reports of a similar situation have been coming in from western Cambodia. Such evidence confi rms the return of malaria and the problem of drug resistance.
Trypanosoma brucei and T. cruzi are the causative agents for Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT, sleeping sickness) and Chagas diseases, respectively. The diseases are respectively found predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. It is estimated that there are 300,000 to 500,000 cases, with about 50,000 deaths annually.Currently, there are few drugs available for successful treatment of trypanosomiasis, especially HAT. With the understanding of ligand-target interaction and structural biology of dihydrofolate reductase enzyme in malaria, exploration on dihydrofolate reductase and other enzymes as possible drug targets for trypanosomiasis is within the laboratory’s interest. Although these diseases are not found in Thailand, our expertise in developing these drugs can make a good contribution to fi ghting against these “neglected diseases”, hence earning good will among developing ountries as well as forming a potential market in these drugs for Thailand.
Since its establishment, the Protein-Ligand Engineering and Molecular Biology Research Program has become the Kingdom’s main unit for research on molecular biology and biotechnology with applications to malaria. The main goal of the research program is to develop antimalarial drugs to overcome multi-drug resistant malaria. The main strategies revolve around rational drug design and the synthesis of new effective antimalarials based on the structures of the drug targets. The unit also conducts basic research on understanding the mechanisms of antimalarial action and drug resistance, in some cases employing post-genomic tools to facilitate the unit’s work.