Malaria Breakthrough Gives Fresh Hope to Millions of Global Sufferers, University of Edinburgh Study

Published: Jun 03, 2013

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Edinburgh, Scotland; Monday 3rd June 2013 Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences have uncovered a key protein that is common to different types of malaria parasite. The research found antibodies that target the protein are proving to be very effective in laboratory tests at blocking the ‘mechanisms’ that causes life-threatening malaria.

Currently, around 10% of people with the severest forms of malaria die from the disease – an estimated one million – most of whom are young children. This exciting breakthrough offers real hope that the University has unravelled a crucial scientific discovery in the global fight against the severest forms of malaria.

The University’s commercialisation arm, Edinburgh Research and Innovation is now seeking partners in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to collaborate with to help apply these findings to bring forward the next generation malaria drug or vaccine development.

This could lead to the prevention of tens of thousands of infant deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

The protein, pinpointed by researchers, binds to red blood cells through its ‘sticky’ structure and forms dangerous clusters - known as rosettes - that can block blood vessels in the brain, leading to cerebral malaria – the most lethal form of the disease.

Once injected into the bloodstream by the mosquito, malaria parasites alter the protein molecules on their surfaces to evade detection by the human immune system. Normally, these surface proteins are poor targets for treatments or vaccines, because, until now, they have been highly variable between the different malaria parasite strains.

Researchers found that the surface proteins of rosette-forming parasites share similarities that may allow them to act as a target for new treatments to block progress of the disease.

Professor Alexandra Rowe, from the University’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the research project, explains;

“We were aware that the blood cell rosettes were apparent in many cases of life-threatening malaria, so we looked at rosette-forming parasites and found a common factor that could be targeted with antibodies. With this research yielding positive results, investigations into the viability of new treatments and vaccines to eradicate the formation of rosettes and prevent instances of life threatening malaria are now underway.”

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh collaborated with fellow scientists and researchers from Cameroon, Mali, Kenya and The Gambia to test their antibodies against parasites collected from patients.

Dr Wendy Nicholson, Head of Business Development at Edinburgh Research and Innovation, the commercialisation arm of the University of Edinburgh commented;

“The quest now is to stimulate pharmaceutical companies into the funding of early stage vaccine and drug development programmes that offer genuine hope in halting the alarming death rate prevalence of this disease.

This research carried out at the University of Edinburgh offers an innovative and pioneering breakthrough and casts new light on seeking a fresh scientific approach to tacking life-threatening malaria.”

According to the latest estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO), most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every minute from malaria. These statistics show that an estimated 80% of malaria deaths occur in just 14 African countries and about 80% of all malaria cases occur in 17 countries overall.

Together, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria account for over 40% of the estimated total of malaria deaths globally.

About Edinburgh Research and Innovation

As the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation (technology transfer) office, Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI) seek to promote the University’s world-class research and commercialisation expertise to potential funders, collaborators, licensees or investors. A recent economic impact report revealed that this activity contributes over £164 million annually to the UK economy and supporting nearly 3,000 jobs.

To find out more information about ERI, please visit

Twitter: @EdinLicensing

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0044 (0) 131 661 7027


Twitter: @acumenpr

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