SCOTTISH scientists say they have identified a link between strains of a malaria parasite, potentially paving the way for a life-saving vaccine.
A key protein common to different types of malaria parasite is said to have been uncovered, and laboratory tests show antibodies that target the protein are effective in blocking the mechanisms that cause the disease.
Researchers at Edinburgh University are now appealing to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to help them apply the findings and bring forward the next generation of malaria drug or vaccine.
In Africa a child dies, on average, every minute from malaria, according to the World Health Organisation.
The Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria account for at least 40% of the estimated malaria deaths globally.
The protein identified by researchers binds to red blood cells using its "sticky" structure and forms clusters, known as rosettes, that can block blood vessels in the brain and lead to cerebral malaria, the most lethal form of the disease.
Once injected into the blood by the mosquito, malaria parasites alter protein molecules on their surfaces to evade detection by the human immune system.
Normally these surface proteins are poor targets for treatments or vaccines because, until now, they have differed greatly between the various malaria parasite strains.
However, researchers found the surface proteins of rosette-forming parasites share similarities that may allow them to act as a target for new treatments to block progress of the disease.
Professor Alexandra Rowe, from Edinburgh University's school of biological sciences, said: "We were aware the blood cell rosettes were apparent in many cases of life-threatening malaria, so we looked at rosette-forming parasites and found a common factor that could be targeted with antibodies. With this research yielding positive results, investigations into the viability of new treatments and vaccines to eradicate the formation of rosettes and prevent instances of life-threatening malaria are now under way."
Scientists collaborated with researchers from Cameroon, Mali, Kenya and The Gambia to test their antibodies against parasites collected from patients.
Wendy Nicholson, from the university's commercial arm, Edinburgh Research and Innovation, said: "The quest now is to stimulate pharmaceutical com-panies into the funding of early-stage vaccine and drug development programmes that offer genuine hope in halting the alarming death rate prevalence of this disease."
Scotland Herald, Tuesday, June 4, 2013