[23-Apri-2000] New research fron the UK National Blood Service has found that concentrations of the malaria parasite - Plasmodium falciparum - will form clumps in infected red blood cells. These "clumps" of parasites may be the key to what causes severe malarial disease. If researchers can pinpoint what causes the clumps, they may be able to inhibit the disease process and thereby put a stop to malarial symptoms.
Researchers have known for some time that a family of blood surface proteins on the outside of red blood cells causes the parasites to adhere to blood vessels and probably causes adherence to blood cells as well. When researcher identify which proteins in the parasite react to the blood proteins, the road to a vaccine will be much more clear.
A physician at the UK National Blood Service noticed the clumping behavior while studying blood samples taken from patients in Africa. Dr. David Roberts found autoagglutination of blood cells in over 70% of the blood samples taken from individuals with severe disease. Blood samples from patients with mild disease displayed autoagglutination of cells in less than half the samples. The conglomeration of cells had not been noticed in previous research.
According to individuals at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, it may be impossible to stop individuals from becoming infected with the parasite that causes malaria. However, a vaccine could stop the development of the disease and its symptoms.
For more information on malaria, try the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine's Malaria Centre.