A critical barrier to advancing malaria research has always been the difficulty in culturing the parasite in vitro. Thankfully, in the 1970s, researchers made some critical discoveries that allowed them to continually culture the most pathogenic strain of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, allowing for crucial discoveries that have helped prevent millions of new infections. However, difficulties remain as scientists have been unable to culture the most widespread malaria parasite, Plasmodium vivax. Yet now, investigators from the Institute of Genome Sciences (IGS) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) have developed a novel way with genome sequences to study and better understand transmission of P. vivax. With more than eight million cases of clinical malaria being caused by P. vivax annually, it is imperative that researchers get a better handle on the molecular mechanisms that make this parasitic strain so globally pervasive.
Using a combination of genomic and bioinformatics approaches, they compared the parasite transcriptomes, or set of ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules, from different patient infections and analysed how the parasites responded to chloroquine, a common antimalarial drug. The researchers analysed the gene expression changes induced by chloroquine treatment and demonstrated that this antimalarial drug, while efficiently eliminating P. vivax parasites, acts differently than it does on P. falciparum parasites. “This emphasizes the biological differences between these two human malaria parasites and the importance to specifically study this important pathogen if we hope to eventually eliminate malaria worldwide.