New hope in the fight against malaria

Scientists have identified and characterized a new inhibitor that prevents the malaria parasite to infect human red blood cells. It is non-toxic to human cells and targets a nanomotor of the parasite. Structural studies conducted at the ESRF beamlines, in collaboration with teams from the Curie Institute and Vermont University, elucidate the novel mode of inhibition that paves the way for new preventative medications against this disease. The results are published today in Nature Communications.

Malaria infection in humans, caused by the Plasmodium parasites and transmitted via the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito, is a prominent global health issue. In 2020, malaria caused 627,000 deaths, the majority being children under the age of five according to the WHO. In 2021, nearly half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control states that with global climate change, there is a risk that malaria appears in Europe in the coming decades.

In recent years, there has been a remarkable progress in antimalarial therapeutics. However, the parasite is developing resistance to all existing treatments, including current first-line treatments containing artemisinin-based therapies. The first ever malaria vaccine is on the market since October 2021, however its efficacy is relatively modest.

Therefore, the international community is still on the lookout for novel treatments. Six years ago, an international collaboration of scientists, including the Institut Curie in France (Julien Robert-Paganin & Anne Houdusse), the University of Vermont in the USA (Kathleen Trybus) and Imperial College in the United Kingdom (Jake Baum) investigated a large molecular complex called the glideosome that plays a crucial role in the movement of the Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) parasite.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Dihia Moussaoui, co-first author of the paper and post-doctoral researcher at the ESRF, during the experiments at the structural beamline ID30B at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron

Credit: ESRF