An international team of scientists that includes a researcher from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory has determined the three-dimensional molecular structure of a promising malaria-vaccine component. This research may help lead to a successful vaccine for the disease, which currently infects approximately 400 million people worldwide and kills about two million people each year — mostly children. The study is described in the August 29, 2005, online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A "ribbon diagram" that illustrates the AMA1 segments molecular structure
“The high number of deaths from malaria is partly due to the malaria parasite’s acquired resistance to traditional treatments,” said the study’s lead researcher, biologist Adrian Batchelor of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. “The parasite is a highly complex organism that develops through different life-cycle stages. This has allowed it to evade the immune system and makes creating a comprehensive vaccine a difficult task.”
Malaria vaccines to date have not been entirely effective, only able to temporarily suppress the disease. A complete, fully protective malaria vaccine will likely consist of several components, each only partially successful at fighting malaria on its own. The potential “part” studied here is a protein known as “Apical Membrane Antigen 1” (AMA1), a protein found on the cell membrane of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes the most deadly form of malaria.
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