Nav: Home

Programmed proteins might help prevent malaria

April 09, 2017

Despite decades of malaria research, the disease still afflicts hundreds of millions and kills around half a million people each year - most of them children in tropical regions. Part of the problem is that the malaria parasite is a shape-shifter, making it hard to target. But another part of the problem is that even the parasite's proteins that could be used as vaccines are unstable at tropical temperatures and require complicated, expensive cellular systems to produce them in large quantities. Unfortunately, the vaccines are most needed in areas where refrigeration is lacking and funds to buy vaccines are scarce. A new approach developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science, recently reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), could, in the future, lead to an inexpensive malaria vaccine that can be stored at room temperature.

The RH5 protein is one of the malaria parasite's proteins that have been tested for use as a vaccine. This protein is used by the parasite to anchor itself to the red blood cells it infects. Using the protein as a vaccine alerts the immune system to the threat without causing disease, thus enabling it to mount a rapid response when the disease strikes, and to disrupt the parasite's cycle of infection. Research student Adi Goldenzweig and Dr. Sarel Fleishman of the Institute's Biomolecular Sciences Department decided to use the computer-based protein design tools they have been developing in Fleishman's lab to improve the usefulness of this protein.

Based on software they have been creating for stabilizing protein structures, Goldenzweig developed a new program for "programming" proteins used in vaccines against infectious diseases. Such proteins, because they are under constant attack by the immune system, tend to mutate from generation to generation. So the program she developed uses all the known information on different configurations of the protein sequence in different versions of the parasite. "The parasite deceives the immune system by mutating its surface proteins. Paradoxically, the better the parasite is at evading the immune system, the more clues it leaves for us to use in designing a successful artificial protein," she says.

The researchers sent the programmed artificial protein to a group in Oxford that specializes in developing a malaria vaccine. This group, led by Prof. Matthew Higgins and Simon Draper, soon had good news: The results showed that, in contrast with the natural ones, the programmed protein can be produced in simple, inexpensive cell cultures, and in large quantities. This could significantly lower production costs. In addition, it is stable at temperatures of up to 50o C, so it won't need refrigeration. Best of all, in animal trials, the proteins provoked a protective immune response. "The method Adi developed is really general," says Fleishman. "It has succeeded where others have failed, and because it is so easy to use, it might be applied to emerging infectious diseases like Zika or Ebola, when quick action can stop an epidemic from developing."

Fleishman and his group are currently using their method to test a different strategy for treating malaria, based on targeting the RH5 protein itself and blocking its ability to mediate the contact between the parasite and human red blood cells.
-end-
Dr. Sarel Fleishman's research is supported by the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation; Sam Switzer, Canada; and the European Research Council. Dr. Fleishman is the incumbent of the Martha S. Sagon Career Development Chair.

The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world's top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. Noted for its wide-ranging exploration of the natural and exact sciences, the Institute is home to scientists, students, technicians and supporting staff. Institute research efforts include the search for new ways of fighting disease and hunger, examining leading questions in mathematics and computer science, probing the physics of matter and the universe, creating novel materials and developing new strategies for protecting the environment.

Weizmann Institute of Science

Related Immune System Articles:

Immune system upgrade
Theoretically, our immune system could detect and kill cancer cells.
Using the immune system as a defence against cancer
Research published today in the British Journal of Cancer has found that a naturally occurring molecule and a component of the immune system that can successfully target and kill cancer cells, can also encourage immunity against cancer resurgence.
First impressions go a long way in the immune system
An algorithm that predicts the immune response to a pathogen could lead to early diagnosis for such diseases as tuberculosis
Filming how our immune system kill bacteria
To kill bacteria in the blood, our immune system relies on nanomachines that can open deadly holes in their targets.
Putting the break on our immune system's response
Researchers have discovered how a tiny molecule known as miR-132 acts as a 'handbrake' on our immune system -- helping us fight infection.
Decoding the human immune system
For the first time ever, researchers are comprehensively sequencing the human immune system, which is billions of times larger than the human genome.
Masterswitch discovered in body's immune system
Scientists have discovered a critical part of the body's immune system with potentially major implications for the treatment of some of the most devastating diseases affecting humans.
How a fungus can cripple the immune system
An international research team led by Professor Oliver Werz of Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, has now discovered how the fungus knocks out the immune defenses, enabling a potentially fatal fungal infection to develop.
How the immune system protects us against bowel cancer
Researchers from Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin have discovered a protective mechanism which is used by the body to protect intestinal stem cells from turning cancerous.
How herpesviruses shape the immune system
DZIF scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum München have developed an analytic method that can very precisely detect viral infections using immune responses.
More Immune System News and Immune System Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab