An Achilles Heel In Malaria Offers New Therapy Hope

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18th June 2009, 11:10am - Views: 699

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Media Release – 18 June 2009 

An Achilles heel in malaria offers new therapy hope

Melbourne scientists have identified a chink in the life cycle of malaria that offers hope for the development of

new treatment options for this devastating disease.

The malaria parasite grows inside red blood cells but to survive and cause illness it must transport hundreds of

different proteins to the outside. While these proteins have many different functions that are crucial to parasite

growth and survival, a common feature is that they must all pass through the same pore in the surrounding


Melbourne scientists have now discovered the identity of this protein pore. The main significance of this

finding, announced today in the leading scientific journal Nature, is its implication for a new anti-malarial


The research has been undertaken in a collaboration that includes two of Australia’s leading medical research

institutes, The Burnet Institute and The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research and Deakin

University’s new Medical School.

Dr Tania de Koning-Ward, the lead author of the study, said the discovery opened up a new way to combat

this disease.

“The next step is to identify drugs that block this protein channel. Since it is completely unique to malaria

parasites this is a realistic possibility”, she said. 

Professor Brendan Crabb, coordinator of the project, said the discovery is a breakthrough. 

“Protein export machines are of great interest in biology but because of the enormous scale of the malaria

problem this one also has practical health value. Therapies that block this pore interfere with many different

crucial processes in the one hit and in that sense it is an Achilles heel of the malaria parasite.”

Malaria is spread via mosquitoes and its most lethal form is caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

There are in excess of 400 million cases of malaria each year with more than one million people, mainly

children, dying from the disease. New therapies are urgently needed to combat ever-increasing resistance to

the available drugs.

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Media Enquiries: 

Tracy Routledge, Senior Public Affairs Officer, Burnet Institute 

PH: (03) 9282 2240 or 0412 223 221 

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