Research explaining how humans develop malaria immunity

New research is uncovering how humans develop immunity to malaria and could assist in developing programs dedicated to eradicating the parasitic infection.

Dr. Alyssa Barry of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne is using protein microarray technology to screen human blood serum to find samples that are immune to the proteins created by Plasmodium faciparum, the malaria-causing parasite, according to

Barry is in the middle of an investigation to determine how humans who live in regions where malaria is endemic develop immunity that protects them from the disease.

“The malaria parasite has evolved many ways to evade the immune system,” Dr Barry said, reports. "We know that one protein, called PfEMP1, that is particularly important for the host immune response can be produced in many different varieties, and these can be altered by the parasite to avoid detection by the immune system."

Barry and her colleagues from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research and the University of California - Irvine, have adapted existing protein microarray technology to scan multiple small samples of human blood serum simultaneously to find which variants of PfEMP1 a person is immune to.

Their research, which is to be published in the November issue of the journal Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, has shown that in a region of Papua New Guinea, people gain immunity to variants of PfEMP1 as they age.

"Young children are the most vulnerable to malaria," she said. "Our studies show that this is partly because they have not developed immunity to the many different malaria variants to which they are exposed," Barry said, reports. "As people get older, they become immune to a wider spectrum of malaria parasites, and so when they are infected they develop milder disease and eventually do not develop disease at all, although they can still be infected."

Barry hopes the research can lead to the development of a diagnostic test that can determine a person’s susceptibility to malaria.

"We currently do not know how people become immune to malaria," Barry said, according to "Our protein microarray technology could assist in monitoring malaria control and elimination programs, by showing when a population becomes more susceptible to the disease as a result of waning immunity."