By disrupting the potassium channel of the malaria parasite, a team of researchers has been able to prevent new malaria parasites from forming in mosquitoes and has thereby broken the cycle of infection during recent animal tests.
By genetically altering the malaria parasite through gene knock-out technol-ogy, a research team consisting of scientists at the University of Copenha-gen and John Hopkins University, Baltimore, has prevented the parasite from going through the normal stages of its life cycle and developing a cyst (egg-like structure or occyst), which spawns new infectious parasites." As it is exclusively the parasites from these oocysts that can infect new individu-als, we were able to prevent the disease from being transmitted to the animals in our tests", explains Assistant Professor, Peter Ellekvist from the University of Copenhagen.
The findings have been published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, (2008 105: 6398-6402).
The intervention "disrupts" the parasites complex life cycle
The malaria parasite has an extremely complicated lifecycle, which starts with the fertilisation of the parasites male and female gametes and the formation of an oocyst, in the mosquito's stomach wall. The oocyst further de-velops into sporozoittes, which travel up the mosquito's salivary gland and from there are transmitted to people, when the mosquito secures its next blood meal. After residing for a short period in the liver cells, the parasites then infect the red blood cells, thereby wreaking havoc in the human body. The malaria parasites are able to reproduce both through sexual reproduction when they inhabit a mosquito (and are transmitted to the host) and via asexual reproduction when they reside in the human body (replication in the host). For scientists to successfully counteract malaria, they must tackle both the transmission from person to person by the mosquitoes and the spread of the malaria parasites in the infected individual.