Brussels, 22 Apr 2003
Scientists from the UK and Thailand believe that they have discovered the key element in the make up of the malaria parasite that allows it to become resistant to new treatments.
Researchers have known for many years that the parasite responsible for malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, is able to evade vaccines, and has so far outwitted all attempts to develop effective drugs to combat the disease.
But new research published in the journal Structural Biology seems to have uncovered the process behind the parasite's ability to resist treatment, opening the door for the development of effective remedies against the disease that kills one African child every 30 seconds.
Malcolm Walkinshaw from the institute for cell and molecular biology at the University of Edinburgh, and Yongyuth Yuthavong from the national centre for biotechnology in Bangkok, were analysing the protein known as DHFR that has the ability to change itself in order to keep the parasite alive.
They discovered that it was always the same part of the protein that changed, and believe that the key to an effective treatment lies in a better understanding of these changes and the reasons behind them.
'People have studied this protein for a long time, but until now, no one has been able to determine its detailed structure. This is a real breakthrough,' said Professor Walkinshaw.
'We can now use this protein structure to design a new generation of drugs which makes it possible to overcome resistant strains of malaria,' he concluded.