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Australian scientists have identified a potential treatment to combat malaria by pinpointing the process that helps the disease hijack red blood cells.

They have found the key to an adhesive that stops the parasite being flushed out of the body by the immune system.

The removal of just one of these compounds is enough to bring the process to a halt.

Researchers in Melbourne believe their discovery could be a major breakthrough in the fight against the disease.

They have identified eight proteins that allow this glue-like substance onto the surface of a hijacked cell.

Proteins are nature's building blocks. They are large molecules that are essential for the function of cells in the body.

Professor Alan Cowman, a member of the research team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, said targeting those proteins could be a key to fighting malaria.

"We essentially block the virulence or the capacity of the parasite to cause disease," he said.

Malaria is preventable and curable, but can be fatal if not treated promptly.

The disease kills more than a million people each year. Many of the victims are young children in sub-Saharan Africa.

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