Breakthrough in fighting severe malaria among children
the discovery of a malaria parasite protein associated with severe a childhood form of the disease could help save thousands of lives. The protein has been found by researchers from Denmark-based University of Copenhagen, uk-based London School of Tropical Hygiene, Tanzania-based National Institute for Medical Research, and the Netherlands based University Medical Centre.
The malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, infects human red blood cells (rbcs), which then burst causing life-threatening fever. The infected cells have parasite proteins on their surface, which help P falciparum to survive in the human hosts. People belonging to regions where malaria is endemic develop antibodies against these proteins. However, children with no previous exposure do not have these antibodies, and hence they have severe disease manifestation. Earlier studies had indicated that the proteins produced during severe manifestation are distinct from those produced during mild infections. But no one had identified proteins specific to severe infection.
The international team of researchers developed a computer simulation to identify and then compare the characteristics of proteins that are expressed by two types of P falciparum, causing severe malaria and less severe infection respectively. Thereafter, they identified the protein pfemp1, which is expressed on the surface of rbcs during severe childhood malaria. pfemp1 causes infected rbcs to stick inside the blood vessels of the spleen -- the organ which removes infected cells. In this way, the protein aids the survival of the parasite.
"Our data suggest that it is possible to develop a disease ameliorating vaccine against severe malaria that destroys the protein," they researchers report in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (Vol 199, No 9, May 3, 2004).
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.