SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2016

Researchers discover how malaria grows inside red blood cells

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Seattle's Biomedical Research Institute, the Universtiy of Oxford, NIMR Tanzania and Retrogenix, Ltd., announced on Wednesday they discovered how malaria parasites grow inside red blood cells and stick to the sides of blood vessels.

Malaria is a disease responsible for thousands of illnesses around the world. The disease is spread by mosquitoes who pass the parasite onto humans when they draw blood. It was not previously known how the malaria parasite was able to attach itself to red blood cells and the sides of blood vessels

The researchers were trying to determine how the binding mechanism the parasite uses works. They found that the parasite binds to a protein in the blood called protein C. They then use a parasite protein, PfEMP1, to stick to the lining of blood vessels and avoid being carried to certain death in the spleen.

"The first big challenge was to generate a full-length PfEMP1 protein in the laboratory," Louise Turner, assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen, said. "Next, we utilized a new technology developed by Retrogenix LTD in the United Kingdom to examine which of over 2,500 human proteins this PfEMP1 protein could bind to."

The fact that malaria parasites bind to EPCR could advance vaccines and drug interventions to treat severe cases of malaria.

"Now that we know the pair of proteins involved, we can begin zooming further in to reveal the molecular details of how malaria parasites grab onto the sides of blood vessels," Matthew Higgins, a researcher from the University of Oxford, said. "We want to know exactly which bits of the parasite protein are needed to bind to the receptor in the blood vessel wall. Then, we can aim to design vaccines or drugs to prevent this binding.