Which Genes Influences Malaria?

A big, global multi-center research – the biggest of its type to examine the human genetics of malaria – has discovered some new clues about vulnerability to serious malaria.

Writing in the journal Nature Genetics, the group, which includes Dr. Sarah Dunstan, reports how it discovered five genes that have a complex role in either defending or making individuals more vulnerable to severe malaria.

Even with good medical center treatment, about 20% of sufferers who develop serious malaria die. The scientists hope their results will lead to new medicines and vaccines to focus on the disease.

Malaria is a condition that takes place when a mosquito contaminated by the parasite Plasmodium bites a individual. The parasite invades and lives in the new host’s RBCs.

There are various species of Plasmodium, of which P. falciparum is the one that most generally causes severe disease in sufferers that are not immune.

Serious malaria can build within a couple of days of infection. The situation impacts many essential organs. If it impacts the brain it can lead to coma or cerebral malaria. If it impacts the kidneys it can trigger renal failure; in the lungs it can lead to respiratory failure. It can also make the blood extremely acidic and cause to severe anemia and death.

Unprecedented research used huge amount of data

For their research, Dr. Dunstan and co-workers examined data on almost 12,000 cases of severe malaria gathered from 12 sites throughout Africa, Asia and islands all over the Pacific Ocean where access to therapy facilities can be challenging.

She says simply because of the international consortium behind it, the research was capable to access a huge amount of information to examine genes that influence susceptibility to malaria on an unprecedented scale:

“It engaged a large number of serious malaria sufferers from multiple nations, which enables us to recognize genes that genuinely have an effect on whether or not you build severe malaria.”

Of the 27 malaria level of resistance genes that they examined, the team identified five – HBB, ABO, ATP2B4, G6PD and CD40LG – that were considerably involved in identifying human vulnerability to severe malaria.

Role of genes in severe malaria more complicated than formerly thought

The outcomes also show the function of common human genetic problems in serious malaria are more complex than formerly thought, as Dr. Dunstan describes, in reference to one of the genes:

“Our results exposed that insufficiency in G6PD, which leads to a genetic blood disorder, can both decrease risk of cerebral malaria and raise risk of serious malarial anemia, both of which are fatal problems of malaria.”

The consortium behind the research is the Malaria Genomic Epidemiology Network (MalariaGEN), a global study group that is attempting to understand immunity to malaria from the perspective of genetics.

MalariaGEN is centered at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

One of the characteristics of the malaria parasite that can make it challenging to research is the fact it requires less than 60 seconds to travel from one blood cell to contaminate another, and it easily loses its infective capability within minutes of leaving a cell.

But the parasite’s journey from one cell to a different should be much simpler to research in detail, now that a group dependent at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, close to Cambridge in the UK, has designed laser optical tweezers to see how malaria invades RBCs.