Scientists find Achilles' heel in life-threatening malaria parasites

April 20, 2012, University of Edinburgh

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

Researchers illustrate how muscle growth inhibitor is activated, could aid in treating ALS

January 19, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are part of an international team that has identified how the inactive or latent form of GDF8, a signaling protein also known as myostatin responsible for ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

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.