Receptor for malaria's cell invasion discovered

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have discovered that the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum relies on a single receptor on the red blood cell's surface to invade, offering a focus for vaccine development.
The blood stage of the parasite's lifecycle starts when the parasite invades human red blood cells, which is the stage responsible for the symptoms and mortality associated with malaria. While researchers have tried for many years to develop a vaccine to prevent the parasite from entering red blood cells, this discovery is the first to find a single receptor that is essential to the parasite's invasion.
"Our findings were unexpected and have completely changed the way in which we view the invasion process," Gavin Wright, a senior co-author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said. "Our research seems to have revealed an Achilles' heel in the way the parasite invades our red blood cells. It is rewarding to see how our techniques can be used to answer important biological problems and lay the foundations for new therapies."
The researchers used a technique called Avidity-based Extracellular Interaction Screen to discover the host receptor. The technology was created by Wright's team at the Sanger Institute. The researchers also demonstrated that disrupting this interaction completely blocked the parasite from gaining entry into the cell across all parasite strains tested.
"By identifying a single receptor that appears to be essential for parasites to invade human red blood cells, we have also identified an obvious and very exciting focus for vaccine development," Julian Rayner, a senior co-author from the Sanger Institute, said. "The hope is that this work will lead towards an effective vaccine based around the parasite protein."
While vaccinating against malaria would be the most cost-effective way to protect populations against the disease, the vaccine must be highly effective so that the vast majority of those vaccinated are immune to the disease.
"Recent reports of some positive results from ongoing malaria vaccine trials in Africa are encouraging, but in the future more effective vaccines will be needed if malaria is ever to be eradicated," Adrian Hill, a Wellcome Trust senior investigator at the Jenner Institute at Oxford, said. "The discovery of a single receptor that can be targeted to stop the parasite infecting red blood cells offers the hope of a far more effective solution."