JNU researchers identify promising protein for malaria vaccine

The research, conducted in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), focused on identifying a protein called Prohibitin 2 (PfPHB2) in the malaria parasite

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New Delhi: Researchers at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), led by Prof. Shailja Singh and Prof. Anand Ranganathan from the Special Centre for Molecular Medicine, have unveiled a potential game-changer in the fight against malaria.
Their study, published in the iScience journal by Cell Press, focuses on targeting a unique protein called Prohibitin 2 (PfPHB2) in the malaria parasite, offering a potential avenue to disrupt the parasite’s lifecycle and prevent infection and opening doors to a novel vaccine strategy.
For the study, about 100 blood samples were provided by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) from people with malaria in Tripura in northeastern India. Out of these samples, 10 were studied to detect the presence of antibodies.
The blood samples revealed that the immune system produced antibodies in response to a specific protein, Prohibitin 2.
Prohibitins, a family of proteins involved in various cellular functions, including mitochondrial activity and cell cycle regulation, play a central role in the parasite’s lifecycle. The researchers found that the PfPHB2 protein, located on the merozoite surface, interacts with the heat-shock protein Hsp70A1A on the surface of red blood cells. Remarkably, disrupting this interaction with antibodies halted parasite growth entirely. By disrupting the interaction between PfPHB2 and the host’s cellular machinery, researchers were able to halt parasite growth, offering a potential avenue for therapeutic intervention.
This research builds upon previous discoveries by the JNU team, who previously identified a novel approach to combat malaria by targeting host lipids using an anti-tumor drug. 
Malaria, a disease transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes, has plagued tropical regions for decades, with India bearing a significant burden of cases and fatalities. Despite efforts to control it, the World Health Organization’s 2022 report paints a grim picture, with 249 million cases and 60,800 deaths reported globally.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), efforts to eliminate this vector-borne infection are underway in at least 30 countries, with a decline in cases reported from 82.3 per 1000 population in 2000 to 57.2 per 1000 in 2019. However, the latest data from 2020 shows a slight increase to 59.4 cases per 1000 population, underscoring the ongoing challenges in malaria control.