Washington: In a major breakthrough which could pave the way for a more effective treatment for malaria, scientists have found that molecules similar to blood-thinning drugs can stop the disease from infecting red blood cells.
Malaria is an infection of red blood cells that is transmitted by mosquitoes. The most common form of malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum which burrows into red blood cells where it rapidly multiplies, leading to massive numbers of parasites in the blood stream.
Over four million people are known to contract malaria every year and one million die of it worldwide. Anti-malarials available block the development of parasite inside the blood
cell, but don`t prevent the parasite from entering the cell.
Now, an international team, led by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, has identified a new approach that could stop the parasite from infecting the red blood cells in the first
place, the `Blood` journal reported.
Using real-time video microscopy of red blood cell infection, the team showed that heparin-like carbohydrates blocked the ability of the malaria parasite to infect cells,
according to the scientists.
"The malaria parasite needs a protein called MSP1 if it is to infect red blood cells as MSP1 is involved in the initial attachment of the parasite to the cells.
"We have shown that heparin-like carbohydrates bind to MSP1 which stops the parasite from properly attaching to the red blood cell and, therefore, from invading," Dr James Beeson who led the team, said.
The findings have raised the prospect of developing new anti-malarials that are based on structure and activity of heparin-like molecules.
Although humans produce heparin-like molecules naturally, they don`t occur at high enough levels in the blood to have anti-malarial activity, Dr Beeson said.
"Heparin itself wouldn`t be suitable as an anti- malarial as it prevents blood clotting. However, we have identified related compounds that are more potent against malaria than heparin but do not prevent blood clotting these could form the basis of new drugs," he said.