The malaria parasite is increasingly becoming resistant to commonly used anti-malarial drugs. Development of an anti-malarial vaccine is an integral part of an effort to counter the socio-economic burden of malaria.
Researchers in the malaria labs at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, India, have now identified a five amino acid segment of a Plasmodium parasite protein that is normally involved in producing energy from glucose. Earlier work has shown that this protein, enolase, is a protective antigen and has several other functions that are essential for parasite growth and multiplication.
Taking this a step further, in a recently published paper in the Malaria Journal, they have shown that a small part of this protein, that is unique to parasite enolase and is absent in human enolases, has protective antigenic properties. "As enolase was implicated in invasion of red blood cells of the host as well as the midgut of mosquitoes, antibodies against this small fragment can potentially have a dual benefit by blocking the multiplication cycle of the parasite in humans, as well as inhibiting transmission through mosquitoes", says the author.
The small unique segment of enolase was genetically fused to a nanoparticle protein and this conjugated system was used to vaccinate mice. Interestingly, a subsequent challenge with a lethal strain of mouse malaria parasite in these vaccinated animals showed considerable protection against malaria.
This study is a significant advance in the field, since most other vaccine candidate molecules tested so far confer protection against only a single species of parasite, due to the species and strain specific nature of these molecules.