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Feeding channel created by malaria parasite - a new target for ,,malaria treatments

Researchers have found pore-like holes in the membranes of red blood cells infected by the deadliest form of the malaria parasite. The parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, apparently uses these holes to supply itself with the nutrients it needs to grow and reproduce.

The discovery may lead to the development of new treatments for malaria, a widespread and devastating disease. Malaria kills more than one million people each year, most of them under age 5, and the disease is becoming resistant to many of the drugs used to treat it. This important finding provides a new target for potential new malara treatments. In addition to causing enormous human suffering, malaria impedes the economic development and stability of many developing countries. This discovery is an important step forward in our understanding of malaria and the search for new interventions to reduce the burden of this devastating disease.

P. falciparum is transmitted through the bite of mosquitoes infected with the parasite. After the malaria parasite infects a human red blood cell, it must get many nutrients-proteins, sugars and precursors for DNA-to survive and grow. While it obtains some of these by digesting the red blood cell's hemoglobin, it must get the rest from outside the cell. The parasite creates tiny channels in the red blood cell membrane, through which it can absorb nutrients. In fact, each infected red blood cell have a thousand or more such channels, which are not present on normal, uninfected red blood cells. For malaria, it is not clear whether the parasite creates the channels by changing a protein in the cell membrane or by trafficking a new protein made in the malaria parasite to the cell membrane for subsequent icorporation. With this information, researchers may be better able to develop drugs to cut off the parasite's nutrient supply. In addition, any new protein that the parasite adds to the red blood cell surface might be an attractive can didate for vaccine development.

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