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Back to the basics: garlic combo effective against malaria

It was the discovery of Artemisinin that won Tu Youyou the 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine. This drug that she isolated from the sweet wormwood plant Artemisia annua, is regarded as a significant breakthrough in the treatment of malaria. The molecule and its derivatives when first discovered were widely used to treat Plasmodium falciparum malaria- the most dreaded, the most lethal form of malaria.

In the recent years however, the malaria superbug has gained resistance against all existing antimalarials, even artemisinin, in some parts of the world. The WHO has restricted the use of artemisinin on its own (monotherapy) and encourages using artemisinin in combination with other therapies. It is this set of circumstances that made Dr. P. G. Vathsala, a researcher at the Indian Institute of Science, look for alternative and safe drug candidates that can be combined with Artemisinin.

Dr Vathsala has recently described the efficacy of the combinatorial approach of garlic with arteether. She worked with mice models infected with Plasmodium berghei [a mouse disease which mimics Plasmodium falciparum]. Her results clearly demonstrate how the combination of the two drugs ensured mice survival, while monotherapy with either didn’t.

Recrudescence or relapse is a common complication faced by patients with malaria. When treated with Artemisinin or its derivatives, the drugs manage to kill most of the malarial bugs, and the patients feel a lot better. The few escape are the ones that pose a problem. These 'hidden' organisms multiply and attack with a fervour that leaves no mercy.

“Garlic pearl oil, when used on its own, could cure malaria to some extent”, explains Dr. Vathsala. “However, recrudescence [re-infection] was observed when artemisinin was used on its own. Using the arteether and garlic pearl oil [a garlic concentrate] combination therapy, we could show that not only did the drugs cure malaria in the first instance, but also the infected mice suffered no relapse and showed good recovery.”

Dr. Vathsala is now working on understanding the mechanism of action of garlic as an anti-malarial drug as this will give better insights for designing methods of successful therapy.

About the authors

1] Dr. P. G. Vathsala is a researcher in the Department of Biochemistry, Indian Institute of Science.


2] Aditya Nayak Pandurang is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow, at the School of Chemical Engineering, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom

3] P. Krishna Murthy is a with the Undergraduate program, Indian Institute of Science.

About the paper

Title: Assessment of in vivo antimalarial activity of arteether and garlic oil combination therapy

Publication: Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports