The research, published today in Nature Communications, was led by Professor Christian Doerig, newly-appointed Head of Monash University’s Department of Microbiology and Professor Andrew Tobin at the University of Leicester in the UK.
According to the World Health Organisation, malaria currently infects more then 225 million people worldwide and accounts for nearly 800,000 deaths per year. Most deaths occur in Africa where a child dies every 45 seconds of the disease.
Transmission of the malarial parasite, Plasmodium, occurs through the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito.
Professor Doerig conducted the research at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology in Glasgow, Scotland and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland before transferring to Monash earlier this year.
“We have shown that a group of enzymes called protein kinases are crucial to the survival of malaria parasites in the human blood stream. If we stop these protein kinases from working then we kill the malaria parasites,” Professor Doerig said.
“We are now looking for molecules that will prevent the protein kinases from doing their job. These drugs will provide a new way of killing the malaria parasite.”
Professor Doerig said malaria was difficult to treat because the parasite quickly develops resistance to new drug treatments.
“There is already evidence that the parasite is developing resistance to the most recent front line drugs”.
Professor Tobin said the research would help counter the adaptability of the parasite.
“This certainly is a big moment in our fight against this terrible disease that mainly affects the world’s poorest people,” Professor Tobin said.
“To avoid the catastrophic effects of widespread resistance to anti-malarial treatments, we need a continued pipeline of new anti-malaria drugs. Our discovery provides one avenue towards populating such a pipeline.”
Collaborators included scientists at the University of Leicester in the UK and a team from the French Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (Inserm) working at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology in Glasgow and the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.
The research was funded by The Wellcome Trust, the European Commission, Inserm and EPFL.