London, July 7 (IANS) Scientists have identified a key protein that can slow down malaria infections, providing a possible new target for anti-malarial drugs.
When malaria parasites invade red blood cells, they form an internal compartment in which they replicate many times before bursting out of the cell and infecting more cells.
In order to escape the red blood cells, the parasites have to break through both the internal compartment and the cell membrane using various proteins and enzymes.
The findings led by researchers from the Francis Crick Institute in London, showed that disrupting this protein, known as SERA5, can reduce the efficiency of parasite escape, thus, slowing down the rate of infection.
In the study, published in PLOS Pathogens, the team used genetic tools to knock out the gene responsible for producing SERA5 in malaria parasites and then took time-lapse video of the cells under a microscope.
They found that the parasites broke through the membranes faster than normal but many got stuck on their way out, meaning that they were less likely to invade other red blood cells.
“Malaria parasites don’t survive for long outside red blood cells, so if they get stuck on their way out, they might die before they have a chance to infect another cell,” said lead researcher Christine Collins from the Francis Crick Institute.
“We found that parasites lacking SERA5 were about half as efficient as normal parasites at escaping and infecting new cells,” Collins added.
Drug resistant malaria is a huge problem, so there is a real push to develop new drugs that work in a different way, the researchers said, adding that currently they are working with pharmaceutical companies to develop new anti-malarial drugs.