New research indicates that HIV drugs could target a protein in tropical parasites and treat diseases such as leishmaniasis and malaria.While scientists previously knew that anti-HIV inhibitors could kill parasites, they were uncertain as to how the drugs worked.

They have found that a particular protein, called Ddi 1 from Leishmania parasites, is sensitive to the drugs – a discovery that may significantly change the treatment of parasitic diseases.

“People in developing countries can be exposed to parasitic diseases such as malaria and leishmaniasis that can kill millions of people, so new and effective drugs are urgently needed to combat these infections,” said Colin Berry, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Cardiff School of Biosciences at Cardiff University in Cardiff in the United Kingdom.

By identifying the protein, Berry says that researchers hope to exploit the parasite’s weakness to develop new and effective therapeutics to combat against disease.

“Like HIV, parasitic diseases have been and still are a serious threat to human health world-wide,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Millions die each year from these maladies and we desperately need new drugs. How fortuitous that agents designed against one killer, HIV, may now be turned against parasitic diseases such as leishmaniasis and malaria.”

The study was published in the FASEB Journal.