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Study finds malaria 'master switch'

27 February 2014 09:09

Scientists have found the malaria switch

Scientists have found the malaria switch

New treatments could be on the horizon after scientists discovered the malaria "master switch" which allows the disease's parasite to pass from person to person.

This discovery unlocks a long-running mystery concerning the world's largest parasitic disease killer.

Researchers hope the breakthrough could ultimately lead to the development of new drug treatments to prevent transmission of the potentially fatal disease.

Sub-Saharan Africa offers many stunning visual rewards for tourists, especially safari opportunities. But it is also easily the world's capital for malaria, for which there is no vaccine.

Holidaymakers visiting this region can give themselves peace of mind by taking out reliable travel insurance, which includes emergency medical cover.

The new study was undertaken by researchers from the University of Glasgow and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, near Cambridge.

They singled out the factor that the parasite must produce to start the process of passing from human to mosquito and then onwards through the insect's bite.

This "master switch" sparks the creation of specialised sexual cells that are responsible for the infection of the mosquito and initiation of transmission. This is the procedure of the parasite passing through the mosquito.

If the malaria parasite cannot create these sexual cells, then transmission of the disease from one host to another cannot take place.

Andy Waters, professor and director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology at the University of Glasgow, said drugs are losing their effectiveness as the parasite is developing a resistance.

Malaria is passed on to people via the bites of mosquitoes which have themselves been infected by the Plasmodium parasites that caused the disease through an earlier blood meal taken from an infected person.

When a mosquito bites an infected human, a little amount of blood is taken which contains microscopic malaria parasites.

Around a fortnight later, when the mosquito gets its next blood meal, the offspring of these parasites blend with the mosquito's saliva and are injected into the person being bitten.

The study was published in the Nature journal.