Malaria parasite research paves way for drug development

Research that provides a new understanding of how the malaria parasite can survive in the body is set to have major implications for the development of treatment and vaccines.

Traditionally it was believed that the parasite’s growth and replication was

restricted to occurring only in the liver and red blood cells.

However, the latest experimental work, undertaken over a five-year period and involving the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) and Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics, has shown the malaria parasite can survive in a type of white blood cell within the spleen.

The findings, recently published in prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the

National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, represent the first

major advance in our understanding of the malaria parasite lifecycle in more than

60 years.

“This new research demonstrates that these unusual white blood cells called plasmacytoid dendritic cells, can act like a ‘Trojan horse’ in shielding the parasite from the immune attack which would otherwise remove it from the human body,” said Professor Michael Good, senior researcher from the Institute for Glycomics.

“It goes a long way to explain why the malaria parasite is able to survive for long

periods and produce recurring infections in people.”

Dr Michelle Wykes from QIMR said the findings open up a completely novel approach to developing a vaccine which up until now, has remained elusive.

“There is now a great opportunity for the design of new drugs and vaccines which

can clear the infection from the cells in the spleen,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Glycomics is developing new malaria vaccine

strategies which are set to be tested in human clinical trials within the next 12


“This latest knowledge provides us with better insight into research strategies concerning the vaccines,” Professor Good said.