LONDON, June 4 (UPI) -- British scientists say they've demonstrated the feasibility of preventing malaria parasites from becoming sexually mature, thereby controlling the disease.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said the parasite -- Plasmodium falciparum -- is responsible for more than a million malaria deaths a year. They said their discovery of a parasite enzyme could also have implications for controlling the spread of drug resistance.
"The enzyme we have discovered, a protein kinasea, is essential for the development of malaria parasite gametes," said David Baker, senior author of the study. "Working with genetically modified parasites, in combination with inhibitors of this enzyme, we have demonstrated that it is feasible to block the sexual stage of the life cycle of the malaria parasite.
"This has exciting implications in terms of improving how we go about tackling malaria," he added. "If a drug can be developed that targets this stage of the life cycle, and combined with a curative drug, it would be an important new approach for controlling malaria transmission and the spread of drug resistance."
The findings appear in the journal PLoS Biology.