Researchers at the University of South Florida (USF), US have developed a new laboratory technique that they believe will dramatically improve the way scientists can study liver-stage malaria in vitro. The results of this research were published in Nature Communications.
USF collaborated with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research International Laboratory, Thailand, the University of Georgia and others to develop a process to culture human liver cells and more efficiently infect them with the malaria parasite. The technique enables researchers to overcome resource limitations to study this parasite stage and more quickly discover new malaria treatments.
“This is one of the last frontiers of malaria research and it’s become critically important because this is the place where the infection starts in the human body,” said Dr John Adams, a USF distinguished professor in the USF College of Public Health and the lead researcher on the project. “Almost all of the current strategies are focused on the blood stage of malaria – after the person has already become infected. But in order to eradicate this disease, you need to block the cycle of reinfection, and the most efficient way to do that is by blocking the parasite from coming into the person. This has not been possible previously because the methods of studying the liver stage have just not been there. Our technique makes that work possible.”
The researchers have begun using the new technique in their USF lab and with their Walter Reed collaborators to evaluate new drugs and validate new vaccines. The plan is to develop vaccines to prevent the parasite from infecting hepatocytes and to develop drugs to kill the parasite after it has entered the human body.