Malaria parasite’s sweet tooth found

A completely new way of killing the malaria parasite has been found by researchers at St George’s Hospital Medical School in London. Professor Sanjeev Krishna’s research group is world-renowned in the battle against infectious diseases and has now discovered how to stop the malaria parasite’s sugar transport protein from working. This prevents the parasite growing and multiplying in the red blood cells where it lives. The research is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was predominately funded by the Medical Research Council.

Malaria kills 3,000 children every day and the parasite that causes malaria is becoming harder to treat as it becomes resistant to more and more drugs. New ways of fighting this dangerous infection are needed urgently.

Now researchers at St George’s Hospital Medical School, in collaboration with colleagues at Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, France, and the London School of Tropical Medicine, have discovered a chink in the malaria parasite’s armour – its sweet tooth. The malaria parasite needs sugar in the form of glucose to grow and multiply in the red blood cells. It uses what is known as a parasite-encoded facilitative hexose transporter (PfHT) (a special transport protein) to absorb the glucose around it. By introducing a new compound, the scientists stop the parasite’s sugar transport protein from working. Blocking this glucose uptake kills even drug resistant strains of the parasite.

“We have spent ten years developing new ways of studying parasite transport proteins so that we could work out how to block the action of the glucose transporter. This discovery proves for the first time that it is worth going after transport proteins of the malaria parasite and that parasites cannot live without this transporter working properly,” says Professor Krishna. “We are very excited about this research, as this new information gives us the potential to design new drugs against malaria.”

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