NIH researchers link red blood cell traits, malaria risk in children
This discovery could greatly impact how scientists identify potential targets for drugs and vaccines that treat malaria.
Between 2008 and 2011, researchers observed 1,543 children. The subjects ranged from 6 months to 17 years old. All of the subjects lived in Mali, a West African country with a high rate of childhood malaria. During the study, the children had 4,091 malaria episodes.
Scientists discovered that several varieties of red blood cells are connected to the risk of contracting malaria. Some of the variants were inherited disorders, others were abnormal forms, and still others showed decreased production rates of the oxygen-carrying blood protein hemoglobin.
The most noticeable correlation was that sickle-cell trait HbAS seems to protect children from contracting malaria in their early childhood. This trait is also associated with a decreased density of the malaria parasites in the sickle-cell children who did contract malaria.
There is also evidence that homozygous X-linked G6PD deficiency, another genetic condition associated with a reduced risk of contracting malaria in girls.