Image Credits: Weizmann press room courtesy..
A new way to stabilize the structures of proteins could be the key to a vaccine efficient.
Despite the fact that malaria has been investigated for decades, the disease still affects hundreds of millions and kills around half a million people each year, most of them children in tropical regions.
Part of the problem is that the malaria parasite changes shape, which makes it difficult to attack him.
But another part of the problem is that even the proteins of the parasite, which could be used as vaccines, are unstable in the range of tropical temperatures, and to be produced in large quantities require cell systems complicated and expensive.
Unfortunately, where vaccines are most needed, there are no good conditions of cooling and the funds for buying the vaccines are scarce.
A new technique developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS, for its acronym in English) could in the future help to develop a vaccine more economic against malaria that can be stored at room temperature.
The protein RH5 is one of the proteins of the malaria parasite that have been proven to be used as a vaccine. This protein is used by the parasite to be attached to the red blood cells it infects.
Using the protein as a vaccine will alert the immune system of the threat without causing disease, and in this way, the immune system can have a quick response when the disease attacks and can cause disruption of the infectious cycle of the parasite.
The research student Adi Goldenzweig and Dr. Sarel Fleishman, Department of Science Biomolecular Institute, decided to use computational tools to design proteins developed in the laboratory of Fleishman to improve the utility of this protein.
Based on the program they had created to stabilize structures of proteins, Goldenzweig developed a new program to “schedule” proteins used in vaccines against infectious diseases.
Those proteins, because they are under constant attacks of the immune system, tend to mutate from generation to generation. So the program that she developed uses all of the information that you have on the different configurations of the protein sequence in different versions of the parasite.
“The parasite tricks the immune system to mutate the proteins on its surface. Paradoxically, the better the parasite in avoiding the immune system, leaving us more clues about how to design an artificial protein successful,” she says.
The researchers sent the artificial protein, scheduled to a group in Oxford that specializes in developing vaccines against malaria.
This group, led by the Teachers. Matthew Higgins and Simon Draper, soon had good news: the results showed that, in contrast with the natural proteins, the protein programmed can be produced in cell cultures, simple and inexpensive, and in large quantities.
This could greatly reduce the costs of production. In addition, it is stable up to temperatures of 50°C, so that did not need refrigeration. Best of all, testing on animals, the proteins resulted in a protective immune response.
“The method developed by Adi is really general,” says Fleishman. “He has had success where others have failed, and since it is very easy to use, could be applied in cases of emerging infectious diseases such as the Zika or Ebola. where prompt action can avoid the development of an epidemic.”
Fleishman and his group are currently using your method to test a different strategy to treat malaria, focused on attacking the protein itself RH5 and block their ability to mediate the contact between the parasite and human red blood cells.
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