In an outstanding new study, investigators from the University of Edinburgh, in the United Kingdom, have been able to discover a molecule that is common to a large number of different malaria strains. All of these microorganisms have the potential to induce severe infections.
Malaria accounted for 2.2 percent of all deaths worldwide in 2010, killing some 655,000 people. The same report indicates that more than 225 million people were suffering from this condition in 2009.
Under these circumstances, the importance of finding a cure against the disease cannot be overstated. The infection is caused by several eukaryotic protists from the genus Plasmodium, each of which triggers malaria of a different severity.
Working together with colleagues in Cameroon, Mali, Kenya and The Gambia, the UE group was able to identify a key protein that appears to be shared by many of the most aggressive forms of the condition, Science Daily
Experts now believe that this discovery could be used to synthesize a new series of vaccines, which should theoretically work on multiple malaria strains. The result the team is going for is reducing the massive death toll that this condition claims every year.
In a series of experiments, the researchers found that injecting malaria patients with antibodies that target this protein directly significantly interfered with the disease's ability to cause damage.
This effect is mostly due to the nature of the targeted protein. Because the molecule is sticky, it tends to bind red cells in the blood stream up in little bundles, which eventually go on to form larger clumps. These structures can then easily block blood vessels, starving cell populations of vital oxygen.
”We knew that clusters, or rosettes, of blood cells were found in many cases of severe or life-threatening malaria, so we looked at rosette-forming parasites and found a common factor that we could target with antibodies,” UE School of Biological Sciences professor Alexandra Rowe says.
Details of the study appear in the latest issue of PLoS Pathogens, a peer-reviewed journal edited by the Public Library of Science. The investigation was supported with funds from the Wellcome Trust.