November 10, 2011
Malaria Parasite Discovery May Lead To Vaccine
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Researchers have revealed a new discovery in understanding how a malaria parasite invades human red blood cells.
The team from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said they found that the parasite relies on a single receptor on the red blood cell's surface to invade.
Malaria kills about a million people every year, most of them being children in Africa under the age of five.
The blood stage of the parasite's lifecycle starts when it invades human red blood cells, which is a stage responsible for symptoms and mortality.
One of the challenges that prevents scientists from developing a vaccine for malaria is that the parasite is adaptable.
However, the new research has discovered a single receptor that is required by the parasite in order to invade human red blood cells.
"Our findings were unexpected and have completely changed the way in which we view the invasion process," Dr Gavin Wright, senior co-author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said in a press release. "Our research seems to have revealed an Achilles' heel in the way the parasite invades our red blood cells. It is rewarding to see how our techniques can be used to answer important biological problems and lay the foundations for new therapies."
The interaction between the parasite protein and the host receptor was discovered using a technique called Avidity-based Extracellular Interaction Screen (AVEXIS).
The technology was specifically designed to detect extracellular receptor-ligand interactions of this type.
The team demonstrated that disrupting this interaction completely blocked the parasite from gaining entry into the red blood cell.
The researchers hope the parasite's dependency on this one protein can be exploited to develop new and effective vaccines.
"By identifying a single receptor that appears to be essential for parasites to invade human red blood cells, we have also identified an obvious and very exciting focus for vaccine development," Dr Julian Rayner, senior co-author from the Sanger Institute, said in a press release. "The hope is that this work will lead towards an effective vaccine based around the parasite protein."
The researchers published the results of their study in the journal Nature.
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