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Blocking malaria’s human protein ally provides new pathway for treatment

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Virtually all Africans know about malaria in one form or another. This notoriety is deserved because malaria is common in the continent and it remains a major cause of disease and death especially in children. In 2017 alone, malaria resulted in the deaths of about 435,000 people globally. One of the problems with malaria is that the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria is becoming resistant to available treatments. A new discovery has provided fresh ideas on how to overcome this.

The researchers discovered that malaria parasites use a protein found in humans called CXCR4 to transform from the parasite form that mosquitoes inject when they bite humans (called sporozoites) to the deadly form that can invade the blood to wreak havoc. This transformation takes place in the liver. Researchers showed that by blocking this human CXCR4 protein, they were able to prevent transformation of the parasite to the deadly form, which prevented malaria and deaths from malaria in laboratory mice. If these findings hold true in further research, they may lead to new malaria treatments that will target the human CXCR4 protein. Malaria parasites would not be able to manipulate such drugs or become resistant to them.

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