Few diseases are more deadly, and more widespread than malaria. The modern-day plague, the disease claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year, even in spite of massive efforts by health officials to contain it. Malaria is caused by a parasitic protozoan, rather than either a virus or bacteria, and despite extensive efforts, defeating this protozoan has proven to be difficult. Now, scientists may have uncovered the secret to the parasites exceptionally quick growth, lending hope that new treatments can be developed from this vital information.
The lead author of the study, Dr Magali Roques, of the University of Nottingham said, “This first functional study of cyclin in the malaria parasite and its consequences in parasite development within pathogen-carrying mosquitoes will definitely further our understanding of parasite cell division, which I hope will lead to the elimination of this disease in the future.”
Malaria is caused by Plasmodium, a microorganism that undergoes an exceptionally complex life cycle both within its insect host vector, and its vertebrate host. This complex lifecycle has made it difficult to fight the disease, but it could hold the key to developing treatments. If one part of the lifecycle can be disrupted, it could kill off the disease.
Various treatments for malaria have been developed, but the parasite has proven to be exceptionally adaptive, allowing it to quickly develop immunity.
The protein discovery could lead to a range of new treatments. If doctors can develop a way to slow down the growth and reproduction of Malaria, the immune system will stand a much better chance of being able to fight off and ultimately defeat Malaria.
Cyclins are found in a wide range of organisms, including humans, yeast, and plants. Cyclins are essential for cell growth and division. Still, up until now little has been known regarding how the molecules worked in parasites.
Now researchers have discovered and studied the number and type of cyclins found in the Malaria parasite. One of the first things noted by researchers is that far more cyclins are present in the malaria parasite than in humans. Scientists dug further, studying what the cyclins do and why.
Researchers found that the cyclins allow the parasite cells to divide very rapidly, allowing for the parasite itself to grow and reproduce very quickly. This rapid growth enables the parasite to quickly spread among red blood cells.
Each year, roughly 207 million people contract Malaria, resulting in .5 to 1.2 million deaths per year. While Malaria can be treated, treatment is expensive and often requires extensive life support equipment. As a result, treatment is often out of reach of the poor, who are also the most vulnerable.
Symptoms of malaria include headaches, vomiting, and fever. These symptoms usually manifest between 10 to 15 days after a plasmodium-carrying mosquito bites a person. If the disease is left untreated, it can quickly morph into a life-threatening condition. Malaria infects the blood, primarily, and can disrupt the flow of blood to vital organs.
Health officials often focus on culling mosquito populations and encouraging people to sleep under mosquito nets. Given the costs of treating malaria, preventing infection in the first place is often seen as a more practical measure.