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Malaria Parasite Protein Could Help Prevent the Spread of Malaria

Update Date: Apr 25, 2013 09:56 AM EDT

Researchers have announced that they discovered a new protein that might help with future drug treatment options for malaria. There are currently no vaccinations for malaria, which is transmissible via mosquito bites. Although there are medications to treat malaria and mosquito nets to prevent it, the cycle of infection between humans and mosquitoes does not seem to end, which is why finding a way to stop the disease from spreading is important. In this latest study, the scientists were able to identify a specific malaria parasite protein that might be able to be used as a potential target in testing future drug treatments.

Current drugs used to treat malaria focus on prohibiting the transmission of the parasite in order to hinder the cycle of infection between humans and mosquitoes. However, other drugs that are used against malaria have targeted calcium, since all organisms must have calcium to survive. The powerful class of drug treatments, known as artemisinins, works by blocking one of the parasite's two calcium transporters. The role of the other identified transporter, CAX has not been found. The scientists of this study looked into CAX and found that this transporter appears to protect the parasites specifically at stages of multiplication.

The study, headed by Dr. Henry Staines from St. George's University of London and Dr. Rita Tewari from the Center of Genetics and Genomics at the University of Nottingham, looked at the sexual reproduction processes of the parasites. They discovered that when a specific protein was lacking during sexual reproduction, which took place in the mosquito, the parasites would die prematurely. This protein, known as a transporter that maintains the calcium levels inside the cells, CAX, was also discovered to be responsible for shielding the parasite from dangerous levels of calcium during the stages of reproduction. Without the protein, the parasites could not grow completely.

"Increasingly, research is focusing on developing new drugs and vaccines to stop transmission of malaria, and the protein we studied seems to be a good place to target. The fact that the transporter is essential to the parasite's sexual development provides a focus for new transmission-blocking strategies," Staines said. "Although this study has identified CAX as an excellent drug target and provides the necessary tools to exploit this discovery, further work is needed to identify potent inhibitors of the transporter. This work is a step in the right direction towards preventing infection transmitting between humans."

The study was published in the journal, PLoS Pathogens.

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