In a recent research scientists have developed a protein that completely cures malaria and protects the patient against re-infection.
The breakthrough could lead to a new and more effective way of treating the deadly disease in future.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the disease killed an estimated 438,000 people in 2015. Most deaths are in young children and unborn babies. It also estimates that nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of the disease.
Beginning with typical flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, muscle and joint pain, headache and nausea, the mosquito borne disease can lead to a lethal brain infection and coma.
The team discovered that there is a protein on the surface of a particular immune cell that plays a crucial role in fighting malaria infection.
Wykes , the head of the Molecular Immunology laboratory at QIMR Berghofer said, “Within the immune system, there are dendritic cells, which are the generals of the immune army, and there are T cells, which are the soldiers. The dendritic cells tell the T cells when to attack an infection and when to put down their weapons.”
“The dendritic cells have proteins on their surface, which they use to send these orders to the T cells. It’s long been known that the job of one of these proteins is to tell the T cells when to switch off and stop fighting. However, contrary to what was previously understood, we found that another protein called PD-L2 can override these instructions by telling the T cells to switch on and keep fighting,” he continued.
“We found that when humans and mice are infected with severe malaria, levels of PD-L2 decrease and so the T cells aren’t being told to keep fighting the parasites.We don’t know how malaria manages to block the production of PD-L2. But once we knew how important this protein was for fighting the disease, we developed a synthetic version of it in the laboratory,” Wykes added.
The researchers gave three doses of the protein to mice that had been infected with a lethal dose of malaria.
“All of these mice were cured of the malaria,” Wykes claimed.
“About five months later, we re-infected the same mice with malaria parasites, but this time we didn’t give them any more of the synthetic protein. All of the mice were completely protected and didn’t become infected.”
He said the findings could form the basis for new ways to treat malaria in future, “This would be a completely new way of treating malaria by stimulating a person’s own immune system to destroy the parasites.”
The research was funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council.