Scientists find Achilles' heel in life-threatening malaria parasites

April 20, 2012

Scientists have identified a link between different strains of malaria parasites that cause severe disease, which could help develop vaccines or drugs against life-threatening cases of the infection.

Researchers have identified a key protein that is common to many potentially fatal forms of the condition, and found that antibodies that targeted this protein were effective against these severe malaria strains.

The protein has sticky properties that enable it to bind to and form dangerous that can block . These clumps, or rosettes, can cause severe illness, including coma and . Presently, between 10 and 20 per cent of people with severe malaria die from it, and the disease – which is spread by blood-sucking mosquitoes – claims about one million lives per year.

Malaria parasites, once in the bloodstream, are able to alter the protein molecules on their surfaces to evade attack by the immune system. These surface proteins are usually poor targets for treatments or vaccines because they are highly variable between different strains. Now, researchers have found that the surface proteins of rosette-forming parasites share similarities that may allow them to act as a target for treatments to block progress of the disease.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh worked with collaborators from Cameroon, Mali, Kenya and The Gambia to test their antibodies against parasites collected from patients. The study, published in PLoS Pathogens, was supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Professor Alexandra Rowe of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: "We knew that clusters, or rosettes, of blood cells were found in many cases of severe or life-threatening malaria, so we looked at rosette-forming parasites and found a common factor that we could target with . We hope this discovery will inform new treatments or vaccines to block the formation of rosettes and so prevent many life-threatening cases of malaria."

Explore further: Multiple malaria vaccine offers protection to people most at risk

Related Stories

Multiple malaria vaccine offers protection to people most at risk

October 26, 2011
A new malaria vaccine could be the first to tackle different forms of the disease and help those most vulnerable to infection, a study suggests.

New candidate vaccine neutralizes all tested strains of malaria parasite

December 20, 2011
A new candidate malaria vaccine with the potential to neutralise all strains of the most deadly species of malaria parasite has been developed by a team led by scientists at the University of Oxford. The results of this new ...

Recommended for you

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.