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Cloaking device discovered in malaria parasite may lead to cure

Category: Blood and Blood Diseases

Researchers at the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada and those from the Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School have discovered a cloaking device in malaria parasites, which may lead to the development of a vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were nearly 216 million hospital cases of malaria, along with 655,000 malaria-related deaths in 2010. Currently, 3.3 billion people live in the 106 countries and territories where malaria is present.

The Israeli study found that the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, which is responsible for nearly 90 percent of malaria-associated deaths, only reveals one of its 60 proteins to the immune system during infection, while hiding the other ones. As the immune system is busy fighting the one apparent protein, the parasite utilizes the other proteins to continue to infect the body. These findings have great implications for gaining a better understanding of the disease and formulating an inoculation.

"These results are a major breakthrough in understanding the parasite's ability to cause damage. This understanding could lead to strategies for disrupting this ability and giving the immune system an opportunity to clear the infection and overcome the disease," said research author Ron Dzikowski, Ph.D. "This clever parasite knows how to switch masks to evade an immune attack, but our discovery could lead to new ways to prevent it from continuing this dangerous game."

Malaria facts
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), malaria is spread through a mosquito's bite, which introduces a parasite into the bloodstream that travels to the liver, where it releases another parasite (known as a merozoite) that infects red blood cells. The disease can also be spread through blood transfusion or a mother can give it to her infant during pregnancy.

Some symptoms of malaria include anemia, bloody stools, chills, convulsions, coma, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and sweating. Other complications that may arise are meningitis, kidney failure, liver failure, brain infection, destruction of blood cells and respiratory failure.

Treatment and diagnosis
While there is no vaccine for malaria, there are various medications that may be issued, reports the NIH, such as quinidine or quinine, Atovaquone, Mefloquine and Fansidar, which is a combination of pyrimethamine and sulfadoxine.

To diagnose the condition, a physician may look for an enlarged liver or enlarged spleen in the patient and then order a blood test known as a malaria blood smear.


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