by Katherine Bourzac, Chemical & Engineering News
Researchers have designed polymer nanoparticles to mimic the surfaces of red blood cells so that the particles bind to malaria parasites and prevent them from infecting real red blood cells (ACS Nano 2014, DOI: 10.1021/nn5054206). The nanomimics have been tried in test tubes only, but if this strategy works in the body, it could help treat the deadliest type of malaria caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite.
P. falciparum has a complex life cycle that makes it difficult for both the immune system to fight a malaria infection and for scientists to target the disease with drugs and vaccines. After entering the body through a mosquito bite and replicating in the liver, the parasite enters the bloodstream at a growth stage called the merozoite. Within about a minute, merozoites enter red blood cells using receptors on the cells’ surfaces. Once inside the cells, the parasites multiply. After about 48 hours, each infected cell releases more merozoites, which go on to infect more cells. This process continues, triggering waves of fever until the patient fights off the infection and recovers or else succumbs to the disease as a result of severe anemia, respiratory problems, encephalopathy, or other complications. Read the entire story.