Scientists discover protein in malaria that may aid drug development

Dr. Henry Staines of St. George's, University of London and Dr. Rita Tewari of the Centre of Genetics and Genomics at the University of Nottingham announced on April 24 the discovery of a protein inside the malaria parasite essential to its survival inside mosquitos.

The new findings show that when a protein called CAX was absent during the parasite's reproduction stages, the parasite would die. The CAX protein is one of two proteins responsible for regulating calcium in cells, which is a vital process all living beings need to survive.

"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," Staines said. "The fact that the transporter is essential to the parasite's sexual development provides a focus for new transmission-blocking strategies."

A drug developed from the CAX protein would combat dormant parasites and stop their ability to reproduce. Doing this would kill the parasite before it could fully grown and prevent infection.

"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," Staines said. "This work is a step in the right direction towards preventing infection transmitting between humans."