Potential Malaria Vaccine Blocks Parasite From Blood Cells
Rebekah Eliason for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
There is new hope for the billions of people exposed to malaria each year. Scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore have discovered a way to block the malaria parasite from invading the blood cells.
Using this new research, scientists from NTU are seeking to team up with the vaccine development industry to produce a malaria vaccine. If the process is accelerated by these companies, lead scientist Professor Peter Preiser says the vaccine could be ready in as soon as five years.
Preiser, who is chair of NTU’s School of Biological Sciences, indicated that the discovery made by his team will be instrumental in the long-term eradication of malaria.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 3.3 billion people, half of the world population, are at risk for contracting malaria. This illness is spread through mosquitoes and is characterized by fever and headache. In more serious cases, malaria can put a person into a coma or even cause death. In 2010, 219 million people were infected with the disease, and 860,000 people across the world die from malaria each year.
“If there can be a low-cost vaccine which is effective in rendering the parasite harmless, then millions of lives can be saved and this will also benefit the economy by millions of dollars each year,” says Preiser.
“What we have identified is a region of the Malaria parasite which it uses to attach to a healthy blood cell then pushes itself into the cell,” explained Professor Preiser. “To prevent this invasion, we developed antibodies which can interfere with this invasion process. So imagine the parasite has the key to unlock a door to the red blood cell, but we muck the key up, so no matter how hard the parasite tries, the door just refuses to open.”
This unique research allows other types of drug treatment options to be explored, which may enable scientists to develop other methods to interrupt the destructive parasite’s invasion tactics.
The research team was comprised of six people from NTU’s School of Biological Sciences and included a post-doctoral researcher, three doctoral students and one undergraduate student.
This research has developed over the last five years and utilized a new screening assay that allowed for rapid characterization of parasite signaling. This is significantly faster than previous conventional methods.
This new method utilized a scanning approach known as high-throughput fluorescence. Using this method when testing if antibodies or drugs prevent the malaria parasite from invading the red blood cells, if they fail the sample will light up, but if it works the samples stays dark. Because of this easy and quick method, researches could accomplish rapid characterization of thousands of compounds along with antibodies and their ability to stop the parasitic invasion process.
The team intends to continue using their technique to identify other antibodies that have the ability to target different parts of the malaria parasite. This could potentially lead to future treatments and groundbreaking vaccines to cure or prevent malaria. They also plan to collaborate with vaccine producing companies to develop a new vaccine based on their research discoveries. This study was published in the journal Nature Communications.