Infectious diseases caused by protozoan parasites - malaria, sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, toxoplasmosis - remain chronic problems for humanity. We lack vaccines and have limited drug options effective against protozoa. Research into anti-protozoan drugs has accelerated with improved in vitro cultivation methods, enhanced genetic accessibility, completed genome sequences for key protozoa, and increased prominence of protozoan diseases on the agendas of well-resourced public figures and foundations. Concurrent advances in high-throughput screening (HTS) technologies and availability of diverse small molecule libraries offer the promise of accelerated discovery of new drug targets and new drugs that will reduce disease burdens imposed on humanity by parasitic protozoa. We provide a status report on HTS technologies in hand and cell-based assays under development for biological investigations and drug discovery directed toward the three best-characterized parasitic protozoa: Trypanosoma brucei, Plasmodium falciparum, and Toxoplasma gondii. We emphasize cell growth assays and new insights into parasite cell biology speeding development of better cell-based assays, useful in primary screens for anti-protozoan drug leads and secondary screens to decipher mechanisms of action of leads identified in growth assays. Small molecules that interfere with specific aspects of protozoan biology, identified in such screens, will be valuable tools for dissecting parasite cell biology and developing antiprotozoan drugs. We discuss potential impacts on drug development of new consortia among academic, corporate, and public partners committed to discovery of new, effective anti-protozoan drugs.
Keywords: Protozoa, parasite, Trypanosoma, Plasmodium, Toxoplasma, small molecule, high throughput screen, HTS, cellbased
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