Another promising breakthrough in the battle against malaria

Sunday 13th, November 2011 / 14:46 Written by


Copyright National

Researchers of the Sanger Malaria Programme indentified the unique receptor the plasmodium falciparum is using to gain entry and penetrate the red blood cells. Scientist involved said this discovery offers good hope for a new route to effectively develop anti malaria vaccines. The UK’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute “may have found the malaria parasite’s Achilles heel in how it invades red blood cells”

As known, malaria is spread by a bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. The plasmodium falciparum is the most deathly of all killing 1 million people a year, mostly Sub-Saharan infants. Only 5 minutes after the bite of an infected mosquito, the plasmodium falciparum sporozoites invade liver cells where it produces thousands of merozoides. The next stage in the life circle includes penetration of the red blood cells to reproduce itself. This last stage is causing symptoms on humans that can lead to death.

For years the human immune system has difficulties to protect itself and find a way to build up resistance against the parasite. Up till now there is no vaccine against malaria although current scientific trails show promising results: the RTS,S trail published their  first outcomes this October in the New England Journal of Medicine, saying they can cut half of the infections of a general malaria outbreak with the help of their developed vaccine. Also the MSP3 trail showed high levels of protection.

Despite these vaccine trails immunity is not made easy by the plasmodium falciparum, which is highly adaptable. Scientist indentified more receptors that are capable of invading the red blood cells: When one is shut down, another takes over. A receptor is a protein that works like the gatekeeper; it is found on the surface of the cell and let only cells in who has the unique shape that binds to the receptor.

The Sanger Malaria Programme found the interaction between the gatekeeper of the red blood cell and the protein of the plasmodium. A basigin, which is a receptor on the surface of red blood cells and PfRh5, a protein on the parasite surface were crucial in this interaction. Disrupting this process completely stopped the parasite from being able to get into the red blood cell.

The plan is to develop a vaccine that will prepare the immune system to attack PfRh5 on the parasite. Dr Gavin Wright, one of the researchers, said a vaccine would have great potential;

As a starting point for developing a vaccine you couldn’t hope for better.


Read more about the research on:

Sanger Malaria Programme

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