Key weakness of malaria parasite could lead to new life-saving treatments

Posted by fi17 at Nov 30, 2011 01:06 PM |
University of Leicester part of an international team that made the breakthrough
Key weakness of malaria parasite could lead to new life-saving treatments

Image:Hugh Sturrock/Wellcome Images

A global collaboration of medical scientists has identified vital enzymes that allow malaria parasites to survive in the human bloodstream. The discovery opens up exciting new possibilities for treating malaria, by targeting the enzymes that keep the parasite alive. The breakthrough was made by teams led by Professor Andrew Tobin of our Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, and Professor Christian Doerig, now at Monash University, Australia.

The teams have identified a group of enzymes called protein kinases that the malaria parasite Plasmodium requires to stay alive. Shutting down these enzymes would kill the parasite, and the researchers are now looking for drugs that will target the protein kinases and stop them working.

Malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium, which infects humans via mosquito bites. The disease infects 225 million people worldwide and causes almost 800,000 deaths a year, most of them children living in sub-Saharan Africa. With such a widespread and potentially deadly disease, finding effective treatments is vital to saving lives. But the parasite can quickly develop immunities to existing drugs, rendering them useless - new treatments are always needed. These new findings could lead to effective new drugs to fight malarial infections.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications, and the study was funded by The Wellcome Trust, the European Commission, Inserm and EDFL.