Now, scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge identified a single red blood cell receptor that appears to be essential for the parasite to invade the human body.
The new discovery, which is labelled as the Achilles heel of malaria, could soon lead to the development of an effective immunisation programme, the researchers said.
Our research seems to have revealed an Achilles' heel in the way the parasite invades our red blood cells, lead study author Dr Gavin Wright was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
'Our findings were unexpected and have completely changed the way in which we view the invasion process,' Wright said.
The researchers, who detailed their study in the journal Nature, said vaccine trials targeting this particular cell are now anticipated within the next two to three years.
'We are at a very early stage and it may be ten to twenty years before this can be clinically applied but we are excited by it,' Dr Wright said.
Dr Wright and his team demonstrated that by targeting the single receptor the parasite was unable to penetrate the red blood cells.
It is now hoped that this can be exploited to develop new and effective vaccines, which will be the most cost-effective way to prevent infection.
However, for such an approach to work on a large scale the vaccine must be highly effective to ensure immunity.