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  • Ahmed Saleh

KFSH&RC, KAUST researchers find gene driving sickle malaria parasite reproduction

Riyadh, January 23, 2024,Scientists from the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSH&RC) and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in collaboration with researchers from the UK, US, and India, have identified a crucial gene responsible for the reproduction of sickle malaria parasites within red blood cells. Disrupting this gene, known as PfAP2-MRP, hinders the parasites' normal reproductive process, leading to a reduction in disease symptoms and the prevalence of severe malaria, which claims over half a million lives each year.

Utilizing advanced laboratory techniques, the researchers delved into the molecular and genetic aspects of proteins involved in the sickle parasite cycle. The disruption of PfAP2-MRP significantly diminishes the invasion of new human cells into the bloodstream, thereby alleviating symptoms and curtailing the infection's spread among individuals. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the National Library of Medicine, PfAP2-MRP is a pivotal upstream transcriptional regulator controlling essential processes in two distinct developmental stages during the IDC (intraerythrocytic developmental cycle), encompassing parasite growth.

Dr. Ashraf Dada, Head of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at KFSH&RC in Jeddah and the lead researcher, emphasized that this groundbreaking discovery opens the door to more effective treatments for sickle cell malaria, considered the most perilous form of the disease. Additionally, the research provides the scientific community with a deeper understanding of disease development and the immune system's response mechanism, contributing to efforts to combat parasites causing severe malaria, particularly prevalent in Africa.

The researchers also demonstrated that the PfAP2-MRP gene governs the genes utilized by sickle cell parasites to create diverse new protein receptors in their genetic makeup. This circumvention of antibodies produced by the infected person's immune system renders them ineffective, facilitating the spread of malaria.

Published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, this study is the outcome of collaborative efforts between KFSH&RC and KAUST, aiming to uncover innovative approaches to enhance diagnosis in cases of microbial, germ, and parasite infections. KFSH&RC, a global leader in specialized healthcare, stands at the forefront of medical innovation, conducting advanced research and education. The institution actively collaborates with major local, regional, and international entities to develop medical technologies and improve healthcare globally, providing world-class clinical, research, and educational services.

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