Platelets kill the malaria parasite in early stages of infection, researchers at the Menzies Research Institute, Australia have found.
Platelets, along with red cells and plasma, form a major proportion of both human and animal blood. They provide the necessary hormones and proteins for coagulation. The clot prevents further loss of blood when one receives a cut or bruise.
Director of Menzies, Professor Simon Foote and Research Fellow, Dr Brendan McMorran, along with collaborators at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne, have found that the platelets play a helpful role, early in the infection.
Dr McMorran said that platelets buy the immune system time during the early stages of a malaria infection.
"We found that platelets were binding to the infected red blood cells, and this binding resulted in the killing of the parasites inside (the red cell)," he said.
According to the World Health Organisation, half of the world's population is at risk of malaria and an estimated 247 million cases led to nearly 881 000 deaths in 2006, mostly among African children. A child dies of malaria every 30 seconds.
Malaria is caused by a parasite which is transmitted through bites of infected mosquitoes. The parasites multiply in the liver and then infect red blood cells. If not treated early, malaria can quickly become a serious illness and even fatal.
Professor Foote said further research to understand how the platelets kill malaria parasites may reveal new antimalarial treatments that the world still desperately needs to control this widespread and devastating disease.
"It is therefore imperative we continue this research, in the hope that we can significantly contribute to the global fight against malaria," he said.
Dr McMorran said that experiments with cultured red blood cells have also shown platelet inhibitors like aspirin, removed this lethal effect that platelets have during the early stages of a malarial infection, on malaria parasites.
"The use of aspirin and the potential harm it may have on malaria infection also needs to be investigated," he said.
These results are reported in a study published in the current issue of the prestigious scientific journal, Science.