Washington, Apr 22 : Researchers at the University of Toronto have found that not all people who get bitten by a malaria-infected mosquito end up with the disease. This, they say, is thanks to a deficiency in an enzyme called pyruvate kinase.
The enzyme is required for energy production in the body, and a deficiency of this, the researchers found, provides protection against malaria infection.
"Our research shows that people who have an enzyme deficiency or those who carry the gene trait for this deficiency may be protected from severe and fatal malaria," said researcher Kevin Kain, a Professor out of the Department of Medicine at U of T and one of the lead researchers on the project.
The boffins now believe that the findings could lead to the design of new novel therapies to treat and prevent the disease through enhancing the body's protective pathways.
"Malaria has had a major effect on the evolution of our species. Mutations occurring in our genome that have helped us survive malaria have been selected for over tens of 1,000s of years of co-existing with this parasite," he said.
"Understanding how these mutations make us more resistant to malaria can help us design innovative new strategies to prevent or treat severe malaria in places such as sub-Saharan Africa."
Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Team grant in malaria, the study appears in the April 24th issue of New England Journal of Medicine.