Malaria is one of the deadliest human diseases, killing a child in Africa every two minutes. A vaccine is urgently needed, but this is has proved extremely challenging because the malaria parasite is a master of disguise, able to change its surface coat to escape detection by the human body. However, structural biology is raising hopes for a vaccine against this killer parasite.
In order to replicate and develop, the malaria parasite must get inside human red blood cells – something that depends upon a malaria protein called RH5. Unlike the other variable malaria surface proteins, RH5 does not vary, making it more easily recognised and destroyed.
A team at the University of Oxford immunised a number of human volunteers with RH5, and found that antibodies isolated from these volunteers prevented the malaria parasite from invading red blood cells. Using structural biology to reveal how these antibodies interacted with RH5, they designed new molecules that could be used in the world’s first highly effective malaria vaccines.
The discovery of RH5 as an Achilles heel of the parasite that causes malaria is allowing these researchers to use rational methods to design new vaccine components, that will hopefully have a massive impact on global health. Find out more by watching the video below!