"This is just the beginning of an exciting new era of discoveries enabled by this technology that will lead to a better understanding of how microbes such as malaria, bacteria and viruses cause infectious disease," Associate Professor Whitchurch said.
Dr Baum said the methodology would be integral to the development of new malaria drugs and vaccines. "If, for example, you wanted to test a particular drug or vaccine, or investigate how a particular human antibody works to protect you from malaria, this imaging approach now gives us a window to see the actual effects that each reagent or antibody has on the precise steps of invasion," he said.
Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite, which is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Each year more than 400 million people contract malaria, and as many as a million, mostly children, die.
"Historically it has been very difficult to both isolate live and viable parasites for infection of red blood cells and to employ imaging technologies sensitive enough to capture snapshots of the invasion process with these parasites, which are only one micron (one millionth of a metre) in diameter," Dr Baum said.
He said one of the most interesting discoveries the imaging approach revealed was that once the parasite has attached to the red blood cell and formed a tight bond with the cell, a master switch for invasion is initiated and invasion will continue unabated without any further checkpoints.
"The parasite actually inserts its own window into the cell, which it then opens and uses to walk into the cell, which is quite extraordinary," Dr Baum said. "Visually tracking the invasion of Plasmodium falciparum into a red blood cell is something I've been aiming at ever since I began at
|Contact: Penny Fannin|
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute