Red blood cells are a prime target for infection by the malaria parasite, but the absence of a nucleus containing DNA in red blood cells hinders genetic research to understand how these cells act as host cells.
[Photo: Dr. Jiang with her interdisciplinary team, back row l to r, Mr. Justin Gibbons, PhD student, College of Public Health and Morsani College of Medicine; and postdoctoral researcher Mr. Charley Wang and research associate Mr. Swamy Adapa, both from the College of Public Health. Team member Mr. Mandzisi Mkhontfo, MSPH student, is not pictured]
Seeking to help overcome that obstacle, researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The Broad Institute of Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of South Florida developed an innovative genetic screening technology to identify critical host factors required for the invasion and growth of the most deadly malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, in red blood cells. The technology uses red blood cells derived from gene-silenced hematopoietic stem cells.
In a study published last month in Science, the research team discovered that a rare blood group known as CD55 is essential for the invasion of human red blood cells by P. falciparum.
“Now we have a technology to make mutated red blood cells,” said the paper’s second author Dr. Rays Jiang, assistant professor in the department of global health, USF College of Public Health, and the Florida Center of Excellence for Drug Discovery and Innovation at USF.
“This will help us to understand how stem cells develop into mature blood cells, how malaria invades blood cells and, ultimately, to stop malaria infection.”
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