London: An international team of scientists has announced a breakthrough in the fight against malaria, paving the way for the development of new drugs to treat the deadly disease.
According to the World Health Organisation malaria currently infects more than 225 million people worldwide and accounts for nearly 800,000 deaths per year.
Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every 45 seconds of malaria and the disease accounts for approximately 20 per cent of all childhood deaths.
The disease is caused by the malaria parasite, Plasmodium that is injected into the human host through the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito.
Now researchers have discovered new ways in which the malarial parasite survives in the bloodstream of its victims, a release from the University of Leicester said.
The advance is the result of collaboration between medical scientists at the University of Leicester in the UK and a team from the French Institute National de la Sant et de
la Recherche Medicale (Inserm) working at the Welcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology in Glasgow and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland), now relocating to Monash University in Melbourne (Australia).
The breakthrough was made by the teams led by Professor Andrew Tobin at the University of Leicester and Professor Christian Doerig, now at Monash University, and is published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications, the release said.
Professor Tobin, of the Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, said: "I am proud to be involved in a collaboration that has made such an impact on malaria research. PTI PS "Our study opens new avenues for researchers to look for new drugs that treat malaria."
Professor Doerig explained: "We have shown that a crucial element that is required by malaria parasites to survive in the human blood stream is a group of enzymes called protein kinases.
If we stop these proteins kinases from working then we kill the malaria parasites.
We are now looking for drugs that do exactly that – stop the protein kinases from working.
If we find these drugs then we will have a new way of killing the malaria parasite."
Tobin added: "It seems perfectly realistic to us that we can now develop novel anti-malaria drugs based on the findings that we have made - it certainly is a big moment in our fight against this terrible disease that mainly affects the world`s poorest people."
However, the experts warned that the "parasite is very clever" at adapting to drug treatments and in so doing becoming resistant to drugs.
In fact, there is already evidence that the parasite is developing resistance to the most recent front line treatment for malaria, they said.