An international team of scientists has made a novel discovery that would help in the development of new drugs to help cure malaria.
They have identified normal function of a set of proteins related to the malaria parasite protein, which causes resistance to the front-line drug chloroquine.
The researchers examined transporter proteins, which are known to move compounds around the cell.
The genes for these proteins are present in plants as well as the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum (known as clt and PfCRT respectively).
In the malaria parasite (a single cell organism), this type of transporter protein has mutated so that it no longer functions normally, enabling it to remove the drug chloroquine from its cell and survive.
The evolution of drug-resistant Plasmodium strains, especially those resistant to chloroquine, has had major impacts on global public health.
Lead researcher Dr Spencer Maughan began researching these genes in Prof. Chris Cobbett's lab in the Department of Genetics at the University of Melbourne.
"Our findings set in motion the chance of reclaiming the efficacy of chloroquine which could turn the tide on the war against malaria and ultimately may help save millions of lives," said Maughan.
"The transporter is normally essential to the survival of the malaria parasite and when mutated, provides the extra advantage of removing the drug chloroquine from its cell.
"We hope that understanding the normal role of the transporter in plants will be a key step in malaria research. Unlike in the plant, if the gene for the transporter is inactivated in malaria, the parasite dies, preventing more study into its role. The plant could therefore provide a useful tool in malaria research.
"These results describe the first missing link in understanding this class of proteins and could provide a two-pronged treatment approach- preventing malaria removing chloroquine from its cell and enabling the design of new drugs based on the shape of glutathione," Maughan added.
The study is published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.