Scientists isolate key to malaria’s ‘invisibility cloak’

January 19th, 2012 - 6:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 19 (IANS) A molecule may be the key to malaria’s ‘invisibility cloak’ and its identification will help explain how the parasite manages to evade the human immune system and cause disease.

A team led by Alan Cowman, professor of immunology at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, has identified a crucial molecules that instructs the parasite to employ its invisibility cloak to hide from the immune system atatck, and helps its offspring to remember how to ‘make’ the cloak.

“We will (now) be able to produce targeted treatments that would be more effective in preventing malaria infection in the approximately three billion people who are at risk of contracting malaria worldwide,” he said.

“The molecule that we discovered, named PfSET10, plays an important role in the genetic control of PfEMP1 - an essential parasite protein - that is used during specific stages of parasite development for its survival,” said Cowman, the journal Cell Host and Mircorbe reports.

“This is the first protein that has been found at what we call the ‘active’ site, where control of the genes that produce PfEMP1 occurs,” he said.

PfEMP1 enables the parasite to stick to cells on the internal lining of blood vessels, which prevents the infected cells from being eliminated from the body, according to an Eliza Hall statement.

It is also responsible for helping the parasites escape destruction by the immune system, by varying the genetic code of the PfEMP1 protein so that at least some of the parasites will evade detection.

This variation lends the parasite the ‘cloak of invisibility’ which makes it difficult for the immune system to detect parasite-infected cells, and is part of the reason a vaccine has remained elusive.

Each year more than 250 million people are infected with malaria and approximately 655,000 people, mostly children, die.

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