Australian scientists have made a major breakthrough in the global fight against malaria.
Monash University researchers have been able to deactivate the final stage of the malaria parasite's digestive machinery, effectively starving the parasite of nutrients and disabling its survival mechanism.
This process of starvation leads to the death of the parasite.
Professor James Whisstock, who conducted the research in collaboration with Professor John Dalton at the University of Technology, Sydney, said that the results had laid the scientific groundwork to further develop a specific class of drugs to treat the disease.
"About forty percent of the world's population are at risk of contracting malaria. It is only early days but this discovery could one day provide treatment for some of those 2.5 billion people across the globe," Whisstock said.
Researchers used the Australian Synchrotron, located adjacent to Monash University's Clayton campus.
Lead author of the study, Dr Sheena McGowan, from the Monash University NHMRC program on protease systems biology, said that their findings prove their concept.
"We had an idea as to how malaria could be starved and we have shown this, chemically, can be done," McGowan said.
"A single bite from an infected mosquito can transfer the malaria parasite into a human's blood stream.
"The malaria parasite must then break down blood proteins in order to obtain nutrients. Malaria carries out the first stages of digestion inside a specialised compartment called the digestive vacuole - this can be considered to be like a stomach.
"However, the enzyme we have studied (known as PfA-M1), which is essential for parasite viability, is located outside the digestive vacuole meaning that it is easier to target from a drug perspective," McGowan added.
The research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A.