Melbourne | Australian researchers have discovered a way to stop the malaria parasite from invading healthy red blood cells, an advance that may lead to the development of a new anti-malarial treatment.
Research from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, led by Professor Alan Cowman, has shown that the malaria parasite cannot penetrate a human red blood cell when key proteins are deleted. About half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria each year, with more than 200 million people infected, researchers said.
Malaria kills up to 450,000 people each year, predominantly children under the age of five, they said. Existing antimalarial drugs are becoming less effective as the parasite develops resistance to treatments, making the search for new targets critical.
Cowman and his team have discovered that three proteins known as Rh5, Ripr and CyRPA together form a complex that plays a vital role in the ability of the Plasmodium falciparum parasite to invade healthy human blood cells.
In research that effectively removed or ‘knocked out’ the Ripr or CyRPA proteins, the malaria parasite was unable to invade the red blood cell, stopping malaria infection. These findings hold great promise for understanding the function of these proteins and their development as vaccines, Cowman said. Developing new vaccines for malaria is a global research priority, he said.
The malaria parasite has developed resistance to most of the antimalarial drugs on the market and new treatments are urgently needed.