London: Scientists at Oxford University have developed a new vaccine which neutralises all strains of the most deadly species of malaria parasite, a breakthrough which they say is an important step towards developing a much-needed vaccine against one of the world`s major killers.
In early November, scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute had found that Plasmodium falciparum – the deadliest strain of malaria parasite -- relies on a single receptor, known as `basigin`, on the surface of red blood cells to invade the cell.
The parasite attaches a protein -- the antigen RH5 – to the receptor, in a sense "unlocking" the doorway for the parasite to enter the red blood cell. Once there, it grows and replicates, causing potentially life-threatening disease.
Now, a team of scientists led by Dr Simon Draper from the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, demonstrated that a vaccine they have developed induces an antibody response in animal models capable of neutralising all the tested strains of the P. falciparum parasite.
"Our initial finding, reported last month, was unexpected and completely changed the way in which we view how the malaria parasite invades red blood cells," said Gavin Wright, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, who co-authored the study that published in the journal Nature Communications.
"It revealed what we think is the parasite`s Achilles` heel in the way it invades our cells and provided a target for potential new vaccines."
Dr Sandy Douglas, first author on the new study, added: "We have created a vaccine that confirms the recent discovery relating to the biology of RH5, given it can generate an immune response in animal models capable of neutralising many
-- and potentially all -- strains of the P. falciparum parasite.
"It is an important step towards developing a much-needed vaccine against one of the world`s major killers."