CHICAGO --- Northwestern University researchers have discovered how malaria parasites persuade red blood cells to engulf them -- and how to block the invading parasites. The malaria marauders hack into the red cell's signaling system and steal the molecular equivalent of its password to spring open the door to the cell. But researchers have found that a common blood pressure medication propranolol jams the signal to prevent the parasite from breaking in.
Scientists had long been perplexed by malaria's ability to hijack red blood cells, then wildly multiply and provoke its life-threatening symptoms.
"This opens the possibility for important new drugs for malaria that won't become resistant. New drugs are urgently needed because the parasite has evolved resistance against virtually all types of commonly used drugs," said Kasturi Haldar, principal investigator for the study and the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor in the department of pathology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern. Sean Murphy, a Medical Sciences Training Program student, is the study's lead author.
The study was published in PLoS Medicine.
Malaria, one of the top three deadliest diseases in the developing world, is resurging worldwide because of drug resistance and the lack of an effective vaccine, Haldar said. Jamaica recently reported an outbreak of malaria after it had been eradicated in that country for 50 years.
A blood-borne illness, malaria is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The symptoms include high fevers and flu-like symptoms such as chills, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. The disease kills an estimated 2 million people a year, mostly African children under five. It also poses a risk to travelers. An estimated 500 million cases of malaria were expected in 2006.
Commonly used drugs against malaria attack the parasite, but it rapidly changes its molecular structure to become resistant to those
Contact: Marla Paul