News / Health

Study: Malaria Parasite Has Achilles Heel

FILE - Two children and their mother rest under a mosquito net.
FILE - Two children and their mother rest under a mosquito net.


Joe DeCapua

Researchers say they have found a weakness in the malaria parasite that could lead to new drugs to block infection. The mosquito-borne disease kills more than 600,000 people every year, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa – and many of them children.

Listen to De Capua report on malaria parasite
Listen to De Capua report on malaria parasitei
|| 0:00:00

“When the parasite infects a human it lives not just in your body, but actually inside of red blood cells," said Josh Beck, the first author of the study that appears in the July 16 edition of the journal Nature. "And within the red blood cells it will grow and all the problems that you get when you have malaria are a result of that growth in the red blood cell.”

The World Health Organization says there are five parasite species that cause malaria in humans. Plasmodium Falciparum is the most deadly.

Beck said it does not just invade the cell. It makes major renovations to its new home.

“Within the red blood cell the parasite lives inside of a little membrane compartment that’s like a little home for it. And to turn the red blood cell into a proper home for itself it makes all these different proteins that it sends out into the red blood cell that cause it to be modified in a variety of ways – structurally, metabolically," he said. "And these cause some of the disease symptoms that are associated with malaria.”

Beck, a postdoctoral research scholar at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said researchers have known about the parasite proteins for some time. But they were not sure how the hundreds of different proteins actually left the parasite and entered the red blood cell. So they focused on a protein called HSP101 and found some answers. The proteins pass through a single pore in the parasite’s compartment.

“What we found,” said Beck, “is that it looks like it’s a bottleneck right there. Everything from all these diverse pathways funnels into this one specific pore.”

A potential roadblock, if you will.

“It is exciting because it suggests that this process could be broadly inhibited by targeting this one specific piece of parasite machinery,” he said. 

In lab experiments, when researchers blocked that pore the parasite stopped growing and eventually died. They describe it as “entombing the parasite.” To make that happen in infected people, however, will take a lot more work.

Beck said, “The way that it will be approached broadly in the field is by screening different small molecule compounds that could potentially be developed into drugs that would interfere with the action. There are a number of different aspects of this pore complex that could potentially be targeted. And so, there’s a lot of different ways to think about designing drugs.”

New malaria drugs will be needed. The World Health Organization warns the parasites are building a resistance to the main anti-malarial compound artemisinin. 

Research also has been done at Australia’s Burnet Institute, which neutralized a malaria parasite in a similar manner. That research also appears in the journal Nature

You May Like

Photogallery Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs