Gates Foundation supports research into milk as a nano-medicine for anti-malarial treatment

Friday, April 28, 2017

Monash and CBNS Chief Investigator, Professor Ben Boyd has received a significant grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at progressing a highly effective treatment for malaria.

The funding will support research into how the unique properties of milk, in particular its propensity for nano-scale structures during digestion, impacts on the effectiveness of anti-malarial drugs.

Collaborating with Dr Adrian Hawley at the Australian Synchrotron, the research uses high powered X-ray analysis made possible by the Australian Synchrotron to increase the understanding of the processes that take place within the human body when it digests milk. The research has revealed for the first time that mammalian milk undergoes a complex self-assembly process during digestion. In normal conditions, it is believed that this process aides the body in the uptake of nutrition and supports healthy development. These processes do not occur with formula-based products or alternatives, such as soy milk.

However, there is more to this than the healthy nutritional and developmental qualities of milk. Professor Boyd and his research team have also discovered that the chemical processes that are unlocked by the human body when it processes mammalian milk can provide high levels of absorption not apparent with more common drug formulation approaches. In real terms, this means that with a single dose, malaria could be cured, potentially eliminating the suffering of millions and preventing hundreds of thousands of deaths annually.

When asked about the possible benefit of his research, Professor Boyd said:

The impact of malaria in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa is immense. If we can work with pharmaceutical industry to enable the translation  of promising new drug molecules to medicines, a highly effective treatment for malaria could result and significantly reduce the impact of this disease on the young.

Malaria is a mosquito born disease, which is widespread in tropical and sub-tropical regions. In 2015, there were over 214 million cases of malaria worldwide, with an estimated death toll of 438,000 people – many of whom were children under the age of five, who are the prime target population for these new medicines.

Some of the obstacles to the delivery of a milk-based treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa are the widespread lack of available refrigeration, variable quality and availability of milk, and general cultural resistance to taking pill-based medicines. By understanding exactly how milk works to enable these medicines to be absorbed by the body, we intend to unlock the potential to assemble simpler controlled ingredients that have a similar function to milk.

Professor Boyd is an expert in colloid and physical chemistry, with significant experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Based at Monash University, he is one of the Chief Investigators in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science -- a national innovator in bio-nano sciences and an incubator of the expertise and technological excellence required to develop next generation bio-responsive nanomaterials. His research focuses on colloids and lipid self-assembly and his group is active in developing new synchrotron-based characterisation approaches for lipid and solid state systems.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Dr Susan Desmond-Hellmann and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Australian Synchrotron is Australia’s largest and arguably most successful scientific user facility, benefitting over 3000 researchers from academia, medical research institutes, government and other research organisations. The facility is operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and has been directly involved in the generation of more than 700 publications in refereed journals. Scientific research and innovation at the Australian Synchrotron spans a huge diversity of activities from medical and life sciences to advanced materials and engineering, and from earth and environmental sciences to accelerator science and synchrotron research methods.

Further information

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Australian Synchrotron