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Leicester scientists closer to curing the disease that kills one child every 45 seconds in Africa

Malaria kills one child every 45 seconds in Africa. Photo: Ton Koene/DPA/Press Association Images

Scientists at the University of Leicester say a discovery they've made is the first step in developing a drug that would cure malaria.

The disease infects more than 200 million people worldwide and accounts for nearly 600,000 deaths per year.

In Africa, a child dies every 45 seconds from the disease.

Working with the London School of Hygiene and tropical Medicine, the scientists have found out how malaria survives in our blood. They have managed to identify a key protein that, if targeted, stops the disease.

This is a major breakthrough in our understanding of how malaria survives in our blood stream and invades the oxygen carrying cells in our blood.

"We believe that we have revealed the processes that can be targeted by drugs that will kill the parasite and provide a cure for malaria."

– Professor Tobin of the MRC Toxicology Unit, Leicester
Malaria kills a child every 45 seconds in Africa. Credit: Henry Wasswa/DPA/Press Association Images

Malaria is caused by a parasite that enters out bodies through the bite of an infected mosquito. Once in the blood stream, the parasites can thrive on red blood cells.

The parasite uses a complex process to enter red blood cells and grow within these cells - we have identified a key protein, call a protein kinase, that is stopped, prevents the parasite from invading blood cells.

"In our study, we have shown that by stopping the parasite protein kinase from working, we are actually able to kill the parasite. We believe that this is the first step in developing a drug that would cure malaria."

– Professor Tobin of the MRC Toxicology Unit, Leicester

According to the World Health Organisation, malaria infects more than 200 million people across the globe, causing nearly 600,000 deaths annually.

The next step for the Leicester scientists is to present their research to large pharmaceutical companies and the Bill and Melinda Gates fund for Medicines for Malaria Venture who support drug development , in particular, for malaria.