Scientists find big chink in malaria’s armour

Researchers said on Wednesday they have discovered a unique microscopic channel through which malaria parasites must pass to infect red blood cells, a finding that opens up a highly promising target for a vaccine.

The doorway mechanism is common to all known strains of the deadliest mosquito-borne pathogen, Plasmodium falciparum, which means that a future vaccine could in theory work against all of them, according to the study published in the journal Nature.

The death toll from malaria has declined by a fifth over the last decade, but the disease still claims some 800 000 lives every year, mostly children under five in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Our findings were unexpected and have completely changed the way in which we view the invasion process,” said Gavin Wright of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the study’s senior co-author.

The breakthrough “seems to have revealed an Achilles’ heel in the way the parasite invades our red blood cells”.

Up to now, scientists assumed that P. falciparum had several options for piercing the defences of blood cells.

But in experiments, Wright and colleagues showed that intrusion depends on the interaction between a specific molecule on the parasite, called a ligand, and a specific receptor on the blood cell.

Blocking this interaction repels the pathogen’s attempt to breach the cell’s protective wall, they found.

“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,” said co-author Julian Rayner, also from the Sanger Institute.

Early results from clinical trials in Africa showed that the world’s first malaria vaccine, reported in a study last month, cut infection rates by roughly half. The vaccine, made by the British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, works by triggering the immune system.

“These reports are encouraging,” said Adrian Hill, a researcher at Oxford’s Jenner Institute. “But in the future more effective vaccines will be needed if malaria is ever to be eradicated.”

Hill added: “The discovery of a single receptor that can be targeted to stop the parasite infecting red blood cells offers the hope of a far more effective solution.” — AFP

Staff Reporter
Guest Author
Advertisting

Mabuza’s ‘distant relative’ scored big

Eskom’s woes are often because of boiler problems at its power plants. R50-billion has been set aside to fix them, but some of the contracts are going to questionable entities

ANC faction gunning for Gordhan

The ambush will take place at an NEC meeting about Eskom. But the real target is Cyril Ramaphosa

What the law could clarify this year

Lawfare: Major developments are on the cards where law and politics meet, including the first amendment to South Africa’s Bill of Rights

The secret ‘Warmonger’ at the SSA

A listening device acquired by the agency is at the centre of an alleged R600-million fraud operation
Advertising

Press Releases

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Is your tertiary institution is accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Is your tertiary institution accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

VUT chancellor, Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi, dies

The university conferred the degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa on Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi for his outstanding leadership contributions to maths and science education development.

Innovate4AMR now in second year

SA's Team pill-Alert aims to tackle antimicrobial resistance by implementing their strategic intervention that ensures patients comply with treatment.

Medical students present solution in Geneva

Kapil Narain and Mohamed Hoosen Suleman were selected to present their strategic intervention to tackle antimicrobial resistance to an international panel of experts.