Study Finds Malaria Targets Genes In The Liver, Discovery May Help Prevent The Disease

Jul 2, 2019

File photo of an aedes aegypi mosquito.
Credit James Gathany / Flickr Creative Commons

Researchers at Duke University have identified processes in liver cells that give some insight into how the malaria parasite grows inside an infected host. 

A new study says malaria targets genes and protein pathways in the liver to replicate itself and then invade blood cells. Scientists say the discovery is an early step that could eventually help prevent the disease.

Maria Toro Moreno is a doctoral student in Duke's chemistry department and co-author of the study. She says there's an emerging threat that malaria could make a comeback in vulnerable populations.

“This is due to parasite drug resistance,” Moreno said. “Right now, even the best drugs we have against malaria, the parasite has figured out a way to counteract and defend themselves against these drugs, so they're not as effective as they used to be.”

Malaria is still one of the deadliest diseases in the world, and is particularly threatening in low-income parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Duke chemistry professor Emily Derbyshire says identifying the way the parasite develops is an early step that could lead to future medical advances.

“Either we can head off or stop that process or find out what they're taking,” Derbyshire said.  “They must be stealing something from the cell, and if we figure out what that is we can potentially target that as a means to prevent the disease from ever happening.”