Striving to Understand the Disease's Biology

Malaria is a disease than has been considered a public health problem in Ecuador, however, during the last three years, an important investment in control programs has resulted in a decrease in the number of cases reported. In spite of the success of this strategy, the most important weakness for the complete elimination of this disease is the lack of key information about its biology. One of the main unknown aspects of this disease is the distribution, abundance and transmission implication of the anophelines in Ecuador.

It is our interest to investigate the biological features of the different species of vectors implicated in transmission. The first step to get this goal is to determine de species de Anopheles mosquitos circulanting in endemic provinces for Malaria that have evidenced a change in the transmission dynamics of the disease. This classification is planned to be done by morphologic and molecular features and additionally, it will include a description of the ecological features of the breeding places.

 Summary of Research Interests

Malaria is a disease that affects 300-500 million people each year. Resistance to antimalarials is widespread and new antimalarials are needed to continue the fight against this disease. Relative to Asia and Africa, malaria drug resistance is less studied in Latin America and information from Ecuador is severely lacking. Our main research interests are the study of drug resistance in Ecuadorian isolates of Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax and the discovery of new antimalarials that have activity in different life cycle stages of the malaria parasite. Our long-term aim is to set the ground for new malaria research projects in Ecuador and most importantly to improve the way malaria is treated in the country to achieve complete cure and prevent resistance.

For this purpose, we are establishing a basic laboratory environment that allows us to culture  P. falciparum  and  P. vivax  isolates  in vitro  and to perform drug sensitivity assays to compare them with standard laboratory strains. In addition, molecular biology techniques are being used to determine drug resistance genotypes in the two main human malaria parasites. Our aim is to determine if Ecuadorian isolates of  P. falciparum  and  P. vivax  are resistant to chloroquine, sulfadoxine pyrimethamine, artemisinin derivatives and other drugs currently in use and to evaluate natural product extracts and new drug in late lead optimization programs for efficacy against drug-resistant malaria in Ecuador. This will serve not only to enhance the development of these drugs but also increase the understanding of potentially novel drug resistance mechanisms in this understudied region of the world.

Short Summary

Our research focuses on understanding of the status of drug resistance in  Plasmodium falciparum  and  P. vivax  in Ecuador as well as in the discovery of new compounds that can cure malaria infections. Our main objective is to enhance the way malaria is treated in the country and to help in the development of new drugs that will ultimately serve in the eradication of this disease.