Carbohydrates May Be Key To A Better Malaria Vaccine, Says Study
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Recently, scientists have found that carbohydrates on the surface of malaria parasites play a critical role in malaria’s ability to infect mosquito and human hosts.
Malaria is one of the most dreaded and deadliest diseases. It brings with it symptoms that can bring your everyday life to a halt—high fever, chills, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, palpitations, and anaemia. Malaria is caused when a mosquito infected by the Plasmodium parasite bites you. There are four kinds of malaria parasites that can infect humans: Plasmodium vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae, and P. falciparum. The P. falciparum parasite causes the most severe symptoms of malaria, which, at times, can be life-threatening.
While there are treatments available for the disease, scientists are still working to create an effective vaccine. Recently, scientists have found that carbohydrates on the surface of malaria parasites play a critical role in malaria’s ability to infect mosquito and human hosts. According to the study, the malaria parasite ‘tags’ its proteins with carbohydrates in order to stabilize and transport them, and this process is crucial to complete the parasite’s lifecycle. “We found that the parasite’s ability to ‘tag’ key proteins with carbohydrates is important for two stages of the malaria lifecycle. It is critical for the - the earliest stages of human infection, when the parasite migrates through the body and invades in the liver, and later when it is transmitted back to the mosquito from an infected human, enabling the parasite to be spread between people,” Associate Professor Boddey said.
“Interfering with the parasite’s ability to attach these carbohydrates to its proteins hinders liver infection and transmission to the mosquito, and weakens the parasite to the point that it cannot survive in the host,” he said.
The first malaria vaccine approved for human use—RTS, S/AS01—was approved by European regulators in July 2015 but didn’t turn out to be as successful as it was believed to be. “It was hoped that the vaccine would generate a good antibody response that protected against the parasite, however, it has unfortunately not been as effective at evoking protective immunity as hoped. With this study, we’ve shown that the parasite protein is tagged with carbohydrates, making it slightly different to the vaccine, so the antibodies produced may not be optimal for recognizing target parasites,” Dr Goddard-Borger, a lead scientist of the study said. The discovery may help improve the only vaccine approved to protect people against Plasmodium falciparum malaria—the most deadly form of the disease. “It may be that a version of RTS, S with added carbohydrates will perform better than the current vaccine,” Goddard-Borger said.
The research published in the journal Nature Communications was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.