Key malaria parasite findings could lead to new treatments

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Sebastian Nasamu, an MD/PhD student at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, battled successive bouts of malaria as a child growing up in Ghana. He survived ­– but decided long ago to commit himself to eradicating the disease. The possibility that his work could lead to a treatment is the reason he goes to the lab every day.

The pursuit has led the School of Medicine’s Nasamu, Daniel Goldberg, MD, PhD, and colleagues to the identification of two crucial enzymes in the malaria parasite’s arsenal: One helps the microbe invade red blood cells; the other aids the parasite’s escape from the cells so it can move on to infect other cells.

Further, the researchers showed that a drug that cures malaria in mice works via one of these enzymes. The findings – published Oct. 27 in the journal Science – suggest that targeting such enzymes could lead to new kinds of anti-malarial drugs, which are urgently needed as resistance to current drugs continues to spread.