Background: Parasite diseases are a huge burden on human health causing significant
morbidity and mortality. However, parasite structure based drug discovery programmes
have been hindered by a lack of high resolution structural information from parasite
derived proteins and have often relied upon homology models from mammalian systems.
The recent renaissance in electron microscopy (EM) has caused a dramatic rise in the
number of structures being determined at high resolution and subsequently enabled it to be
thought of as a tool in drug discovery.
Results: In this review, we discuss the challenges associated with the structural determination
of parasite proteins including the difficulties in obtaining sufficient quantities of protein.
We then discuss the reasons behind the resurgence in EM, how it may overcome some of
these challenges and provide examples of EM derived parasite protein structures. Finally,
we discuss the challenges which EM needs to overcome before it is used as a mainstream
technique in anti-parasite drug discovery.
Conclusions: This review reports the progress that has been made in obtaining sufficient
quantities of proteins for structural studies and the role EM may play in future structure
based drug design programs. The outlook for future structure based drug design programs
against some of the most devastating parasite diseases looks promising.