Studies: risk of malaria from mutated pathogens

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Increased risk of malaria due to genetically modified pathogens

Many people in tropical countries have natural protection against a specific form of malaria if they lack a certain protein in their blood. This natural resistance can be circumvented with genetically modified pathogens, as American researchers found.

Natural protection against malaria In tropical countries, many people have natural protection against a specific form of tropical disease, malaria tertiana. You lack a certain amount of protein on the red blood cells. They are called Duffy negative and so far they have been considered immune to disease. But modified malaria pathogens could outwit the natural resistance to the disease, as researchers from the United States have found with the help of genetic studies.

Mild form of malaria These pathogens are parasites called Plasmodium vivax, which cause tertiary malaria. This form is a rather benign and mild variant of malaria and complications or life-threatening conditions are less common than in other forms. But here too there is a high fever, which occurs in regular episodes, as well as nausea and vomiting. The pathogens can hide in the liver and make the patient sick again later. The experts presented their new findings at a conference for tropical medicine in Washington.

New Phenomenon or Newly Discovered As stated in the congress announcement, researchers could have observed over the past five years that Africans and South Americans who are Duffy-negative still contracted malaria tertiana. In sub-Saharan Africa, around 95 percent of the population is considered Duffy negative. With them, the parasites cannot enter the red blood cells and cannot multiply. But Peter Zimmermann from the Case-Western Reserve University in Cleveland (Ohio) said: “We have discovered previously unknown gene mechanisms in Plasmodium vivax parasites that could open up other possibilities for them to penetrate red blood cells. “That could explain why these people also get malaria. According to the information, it is still unclear whether this is a new phenomenon or whether it has only just been discovered.

220 million malaria diseases The death rate with malaria tertiana is significantly lower than with the more dangerous malaria tropica. But the number of people at risk of infection worldwide is estimated to be approximately the same for both forms. In 2010, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 220 million people contracted one of the various forms of malaria and around 660,000 patients died as a result. The tropical disease is transmitted by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito.

Results will be published soon. For their studies, Zimmermann and colleagues examined, among other things, the genome of plasmodia from the African island of Madagascar. They found that over fifty percent of the parasites had a duplicate gene that is responsible for penetration into the red blood cells. And they came across a previously unknown gene in plasmodia from Southeast Asian Cambodia. This could enable the pathogens to invade the cells. The researchers plan to publish their results in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases in the near future.

Reduce illnesses by 75 percent by 2030

The annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) will take place until tomorrow Sunday. The WHO's goals for the development of malaria vaccines were also presented there. According to this, there should be vaccines on the market by 2030, which should reduce diseases worldwide by 75 percent. 27 products are currently being investigated in clinical trials.

Pharmaceutical company develops malaria vaccine The British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has apparently developed a vaccine called "RTS, S" that is specifically intended for African children. The vaccine is the most advanced compared to other developments, which is why the group now wants to push forward the use of the new agent. According to this, the assessment of the vaccine by the European Medicines Agency should take place next year, so that if the outcome is positive, the product can be used in Africa from 2015. (ad)

Image: Michael Bührke /

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Video: Hemoglobin Disorders: Slicing the Gordian Knot of Falciparum Malaria


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