New way to kill the malaria parasite identified

Scientists have discovered new ways in which the malaria parasite survives in the blood stream of its victims - a discovery that could pave the way to new treatments for the disease.

The researchers at the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Toxicology Unit based at Leicester and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine identified a key protein, called a protein kinase, that if targeted stops the disease.

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L-R: Dr Lev Solyakov, Professor Andrew Tobin and Dr Mahmood Alam from the MRC Toxicology Unit which is located at the University of Leicester.
Malaria is caused by a parasite that enters the body through the bite of an infected mosquito. Once inside the body, parasites use a complex process to enter red blood cells and survive within them. By identifying one of the key proteins needed for the parasite to survive in the red blood cells the team have prevented the protein from working and thereby kill the parasite – in this way they have taken the first step in developing a new drug that could treat malaria.

The researchers found that one protein kinase plays a central role in various pathways that allow the parasite to survive in the blood. Understanding the pathways the parasite uses means that future drugs could be precisely designed to kill the parasite but with limited toxicity, making them safe enough to be used by children and pregnant women.

According to the World Health Organisation malaria currently infects more than 200 million people worldwide and accounts for more than 500,000 deaths per year. Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every minute of malaria and the disease accounts for approximately 20% of all childhood deaths.

The study is published in Nature Communications and is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust.

 A video about the research is available below:

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