Researchers Map First Malaria Parasite-Human Contact Using Cryo-Electron Microscopy

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Researchers from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute revealed the first atomic scale blue print of malaria parasite.

Researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute mapped the previously hidden first contact between Plasmodium vivax malaria parasites and young red blood cells that could be a boost to develop a new vaccine for malaria. Using the Nobel Prize-winning technology Cryo-electron microscopy or cryo-EM the team acquired the blue print of the location of invasion of parasites before spreading throughout the body.  The research led by Associate professors Wai-Hong Tham and Dr. Jakub Gruszczyk from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute revealed prior that Plasmodium vivax parasites use the human transferrin receptor to gain access to red blood cells. The atomic level interactions in the process were now analyzed by using cryo-EM. Plasmodium vivax parasites is the most common factor for malaria worldwide for its ability to lie undetected by the immune system. The 3-D map from cryo-EM enabled to learn the precise details of the parasite-host interaction, identifying its most vulnerable spots. The molecular machinery identified in the process could the best target for an antimalarial vaccine effective against the widest range of Plasmodium vivax parasites. The study was published in the journal Nature on June 27, 2018.

The researchers further worked with X-ray crystallography facilities at the Australian Synchrotron on the methods of binding and blocking the Plasmodium vivax parasites with antimalarial antibodies to stop the parasites from attacking red blood cells. The weak spots of the parasite exposed due to cryo-EM blueprint can be exploited as therapeutic targets to develop new therapies and vaccines to disrupt the parasite’s invasion machinery, eventually preventing malaria parasites from attacking human red blood cells to spread through the blood and, ultimately, be transmitted to others.

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