Scientists have figured out the key to malaria’s rampant growth. Protein molecules called cyclins cause cells to divide rapidly in the malara parasite, according to a new study led by a team from the University of Nottingham.
Scientists are hopeful this new knowledge could lead to new treatments for malaria, which is responsible for at least half a million deaths each year.
Cyclins – which have been studied in humans, yeasts and plants – are some of the most important protien molecules needed for cell division. But little was known about them in the malaria parasite and how they affect cell development – until now. The study, which was published in the journal PLoS Pathogens, breaks down the number and type of cyclins in malaria parasites.
Dr Bill Wickstead, of the University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences, identified three types of cyclin genes in the parasite – far fewer than are present in humans.
Compared with other sets of cyclins, these created an “exciting type of cell division.”
An in-depth analysis of the cyclins in the parasite was then executed to gain more information about what they do and why. Prof. Rita Tewari found that cyclins in malaria parasites made cells divide very quickly, which allowed them to spread to blood cells at a rapid pace. Understanding why this occurs could help understand how the parasite thrives within a mosquito and its human host, which could lead to new treatments for the disease.
According to Dr Magali Roques, the lead author of the study
(The research) will definitely further our understanding of parasite cell division, which I hope will lead to the elimination of this disease in the future.
Malaria remains an important problem in global health. Each year, about 207 million people contract malaria, resulting in somewhere between more than half a million to over 1.2 million deaths, according to estimates. A large part of these deaths are caused by cerebral malaria.