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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Malaria?

Malaria is a scourge that researchers have had a very hard time fighting. But now, thanks to a new technique developed by an international team of researchers, an effective vaccine for malaria may be possible, reports Veronique Greenwood at 80beats. The problem with malaria is that the various strains of Plasmodium falciparum, the protozoan that causes the disease, use different molecular methods to infect red blood cells, Greenwood says. Since a common molecule is required to make an effective vaccine, scientists have so far been at a loss. But now, according to a new study published in Nature, that problem has been solved. Using a "special chemical treatment that keeps the fragile interactions between protozoan surface molecules and red blood cell surface molecules intact for study," the researchers have found a surface molecule called PfRh5 that is common to all strains of malaria, Greenwood says. "They noticed that the protozoa were latching onto a particular blood cell molecule, and when they made red blood cells without that molecule, the protozoa were locked out. Sending in antibodies that perched on the molecule and kept protozoa from engaging with it also worked," she adds. This method worked against 15 different malarial strains. Experts say there's still a ways to go before this discovery can be turned into a vaccine, but it's a start.

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