Issue 1
Monday, 27 February 2017
Charles Darwin University
Professor Ric Price (left) and Menzies Head of Global Health Division Professor Nick Anstey
Professor Ric Price (left) and Menzies Head of Global Health Division Professor Nick Anstey

Scientists make malaria breakthrough

By Claire Addinsall

An international team of scientists has sequenced the genomes of the final two species of malaria parasites. The findings have important implications for malaria eradication worldwide and will help researchers to develop new drugs and a vaccine.

The results of the study were published recently in the journal “Nature”.

The research was led by a team from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom and involved collaborators from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, and the Menzies School of Health Research.

Malaria is caused by one of five different species of Plasmodium parasites, which are spread to humans by the female Anopheles mosquito. The genomes of three of the species are relatively well studied, especially Plasmodium falciparum, the most common malaria parasite.

But very little was known about Plasmodium malariae and Plasmodium ovale, believed to cause up to five per cent of malaria cases, or an estimated 10 million cases, worldwide each year. These species can remain dormant in humans for years.

By comparing these new genomes with those of the three malaria parasites already sequenced, the researchers identified genes that could be involved in human infection and in adapting to the human host.

They found that up to 40 per cent of the Plasmodium malariae and Plasmodium ovale genomes contained genes that probably allowed the parasites to evade the human immune system.

Professor James McCarthy from QIMR Berghofer said the findings would enable better surveillance and diagnosis of malaria.

“Having these genomes sequenced should help with the development of a vaccine and improved diagnostic tools, and should also help to ensure that drugs work against the parasites.”

Professor Ric Price from the Menzies School of Health Research said the study had added significantly to the available body of knowledge on malaria.

“It is very difficult to study these parasites because they can’t be grown in the lab,” Professor Price said.

Menzies Head of Global Health Division Professor Nick Anstey was also a member of the research team.