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New research could help eradicate malaria

Scientists from Birkbeck, University of Nottingham and other institutions have made a major breakthrough in understanding how malaria is transmitted.

Birkbeck has collaborated with a number of institutions to produce new research that could help stop the spread of Malaria. The deadly disease is responsible for almost half a million deaths a year, mainly in countries in Africa and other parts of the developing world.

The research was published in the scientific journal PLOS Pathogens and highlights the importance of the motor protein (kinesin) as a key component to parasite multiplication and transmission to humans. This is the first time scientists have studied the role of kinesin-8X, which it has been discovered, is the driver of malaria parasite (Plasmodium) multiplication, and the transmission of the disease.

The researchers tagged the kinesin protein to see when it was present and understand its role during the parasite’s lifecycle. After finding that Kinesin-8X was crucial in the development of the disease, during the ‘transmission stages’, it became apparent that in order to stop the disease they needed to target the protein.

Professor Carolyn Moores, Professor of Structural Biology at Birkbeck said:

"Malaria is a major killer worldwide, especially in developing countries. The power of our study comes from the combined collaborative expertise of several research groups, including the team at Birkbeck, using different techniques to shed light on how the malaria parasite multiplies and is transmitted. Such studies represent important first steps to developing strategies to block parasite growth and spread, and therefore reducing disease incidence."

Dr Zeeshan Mohammed from the University of Nottingham and first author of the paper explains:

“When we took kinesin-8X away, at the stage where the cell has to divide many times, it stopped multiplying completely – preventing transmission from the mosquito. This finding is very important as it is the first time in the field of molecular motors where we show that if the motor is not there, then the parasite cannot be transmitted from the mosquito to the human.”

Leader of the project, Professor Rita Tewari, Professor of Parasite Cell Biology at the University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences commented:

“We are trying to understand how the unique malaria parasite cell works, both in its multiplication and in transmission between humans and mosquitoes, and this study is an important step towards that understanding.”

“One mosquito can bite and affect so many people in tropical areas. The disease is not airborne, it is mosquito-borne, and so working out how to prevent parasite transmission by the mosquitoes is so important for the eradication of the disease.”

The research was carried out by scientists at: The Francis Crick Institute, London; Oxford Brookes University, UC Riverside, California, KAUST in Saudi Arabia and Berne in Switzerland. The work was funded by BBSRC, MRC, CRUK, Wellcome Trust, CRG-KAUST, NIH and NIAID.

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