Malaria mystery solved by UK researchers

Malaria mystery solved by UK researchers
Highlights

Malaria mystery solved by UK researchers, malaria parasite, new treatment for malaria. This discovery has opened the way to potential new drug treatments that would prevent transmission of the disease.

  • Opens the way to potential new drug treatments
  • Disease sickens more than 200 million a year

London : The long-standing mystery of how the malaria parasite initiates the process of transmission from human to human has been unlocked by the researchers in UK, opening the way to develop new treatments to prevent the disease which sickens more than 200 million a year.

Scientists at the University of Glasgow and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have identified that the parasite must produce to begin the process of passing from human to mosquito and, therefore, completing its full life cycle.

This discovery has opened the way to potential new drug treatments that would prevent transmission of the disease.

Malaria is transmitted to people through the bites of mosquitoes which are infected by the Plasmodium parasites that cause the disease.

When a mosquito bites an infected person, a small amount of blood is taken which contains microscopic malaria parasites.

About two weeks later, when the mosquito takes its next blood meal, the progeny of these parasites mix with the mosquito's saliva and are injected into the person being bitten. The whole process of the parasite passing through the mosquito is called transmission.

The breakthrough achieved by the researcher's team has been to identify the way the parasite flicks the switch that allows transmission to take place.

They have identified a single regulatory protein which acts as the master switch that triggers the development of male and female sexual forms (termed gametocytes) of the malaria parasite.

It is these specialised sexual cells that are responsible for the infection of the mosquito and initiation of transmission.

The researchers effectively reversed the process by genetic engineering of the mutant gene in the parasites to repair the protein switch which restored the parasite's ability to make gametocytes. The discovery of how the key regulatory protein works means this "transmission switch" could be disabled in future through the development of new drugs. However, any drug treatment developed as a result of this research is likely to be what scientists describe as an altruistic intervention.

The mosquito-borne parasitic disease is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions around the equator, including much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

The World Health Organisation estimated 207 million cases of malaria in 2012. The disease, that year, killed 6,27,000 people.

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