Study identifies new way to kill the malaria parasite

Posted by ap507 at Jul 07, 2015 10:00 AM |
Discovery could pave the way to new treatments for the disease

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 6 July

You can watch, download and embed a video about the study at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGiZzDG2uv8

Contact pressoffice@le.ac.uk to request images.

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 the University of Leicester and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine identified a key protein, called a protein kinase, that if targeted stops the disease. The study is published today (Tuesday) in Nature Communications.

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 scientists – funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust – used state-of–the-art methods to dissect the biochemical pathways involved in keeping the malaria parasite alive. This included an approach called chemical genetics where synthetic chemicals are used in combination with introducing genetic changes to the DNA of the parasite.

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.

Co-lead author of the study Professor Andrew Tobin from the MRC Toxicology Unit which is located at the University of Leicester, said: “This is a real breakthrough in our understanding of how malaria survives in the blood stream and invades red blood cells. We’ve revealed a process that allows this to happen and if it can be targeted by drugs we could see something that stops malaria in its tracks without causing toxic side-effects.”

Professor David Baker, co-lead author from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “It is a great advantage in drug discovery research if you know the identity of the molecular target of a particular drug and the consequences of blocking its function. It helps in designing the most effective combination treatments and also helps to avoid drug resistance which is a major problem in the control of malaria worldwide.”

According to the World Health Organization 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.

Professor Patrick Maxwell, chair of the MRC’s Molecular and Cellular Medicine Board, said: “Tackling malaria is a global challenge, with the parasite continually working to find ways to survive our drug treatments. By combining a number of techniques to piece together how the malaria parasite survives, this study opens the door on potential new treatments that could find and exploit the disease’s weak spots but with limited side-effects for patients.”

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

For more information please contact the MRC press office on email press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

You can watch, download and embed a video explaining the research at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGiZzDG2uv8

The paper, Phosphoproteomics reveals malaria parasite Protein Kinase G as a signalling hub regulating egress and invasion, is published in Nature Communications.  doi: 10.1038/ncomms8285.

The Medical Research Council is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-one MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. www.mrc.ac.uk

The University of Leicester is a leading UK University committed to international excellence through the creation of world changing research and high quality, inspirational teaching. Leicester is consistently one of the UK's most socially inclusive universities with a long-standing commitment to providing fairer and equal access to higher education. Leicester is a three-time winner of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education and is the only University to win seven consecutive awards from the Times Higher. Leicester is ranked among the top one per-cent of universities in the world by the THE World University Rankings.

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a world-leading centre for research and postgraduate education in public and global health, with 3,900 students and more than 1,000 staff working in over 100 countries. The School is one of the highest-rated research institutions in the UK, and among the world's leading schools in public and global health. Our mission is to improve health and health equity in the UK and worldwide; working in partnership to achieve excellence in public and global health research, education and translation of knowledge into policy and practice. www.lshtm.ac.uk

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. We provide more than £700 million a year to support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine. Our £18 billion investment portfolio gives us the independence to support such transformative work as the sequencing and understanding of the human genome, research that established front-line drugs for malaria, and Wellcome Collection, our free venue for the incurably curious that explores medicine, life and art.

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