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.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    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
    ...    
     
    X

    “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

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.