Marine Lifeline

Marine Lifeline

Dr. Debopam Chakrabarti of the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences has been awarded a two-year, $410,000 grant to study how marine microorganisms can be used to disarm malaria.

“There is a great need to develop new therapies,” said Dr. Chakrabarti, who landed the grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

According to the World Health Organization, 3.3 billion people — half the world’s population — live in areas at risk of malaria. Every year, this leads to about 250 million malaria cases and one million deaths. There is no FDA-approved vaccine for the disease, and malaria parasites are experts at mutating to evade their therapeutic pursuers.

Dr. Chakrabarti said the diversity offered by marine habitats offers promising options in the war against malaria. Currently, two important antimalarial drugs are derived from terrestrial sources: artemisinin from the Qinghao plant and quinine from the cinchona tree.

He is partnering with Dr. Peter McCarthy of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce. Their work will build on previous research conducted by Dr. Chakrabarti and the Institute.

The preliminary research analyzed more than 2,500 samples from marine creatures such as sponges and coral collected from a depth up to 3,000 feet off the Florida coast. Of those samples, about 200 have been identified as having antimalarial properties, Dr. Chakrabarti said.

Preliminary data show that microorganisms are a good source for antimalarial agents, Dr. Chakrabarti said. The new grant will be focused on testing these microorganisms and trying to identify their chemical structure.