Genetic make-up of children explains how they fight malaria infection

September 12, 2012

Researchers from Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center and University of Montreal have identified several novel genes that make some children more efficient than others in the way their immune system responds to malaria infection. This world-first in integrative efforts to track down genes predisposing to specific immune responses to malaria and ultimately to identify the most suitable targets for vaccines or treatments was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by lead author Dr. Youssef Idaghdour and senior author Pr. Philip Awadalla, whose laboratory has been performing world-wide malaria research for the past 13 years.

"Malaria is a major health problem world-wide, with over 3 billion individuals at risk and hundreds of thousands of deaths annually, a majority of which are African children under the age of 5. Why are some children prone to infection, while others are resistant and efficiently fight the disease? These are the questions we sought to answer with our study", Idaghdour says.

However, to succeed where many other studies have failed, the team used an approach different from the classic in vitro one, where the genome is analyzed using cells grown in a laboratory. Instead, they used an in vivo approach, analyzing of children from the Republic of Benin, , collected with the help of collaborators in the city of Cotonou and the nearby village of Zinvié. "This approach allowed us to identify how the "environment" engages in an arms race to define the clinical course of the disease, in this case the environment being the number of parasites detected in the child's blood running against the genetic make-up of the infected child", Idaghdour explains.

"We used an innovative combination of technologies that assessed both among children and the conditions in which their genes are "expressed". By doing so, we increased the power of our analysis by permitting us not only to detect the mutations, but also to capture their effect depending on how they affect genes being turned "on" or "off" in presence of the parasite", Awadalla explains. "Our approach made us successful, where million-dollar studies have failed in the past. There has never been this many genes associated with malaria discovered in one study."

This major milestone in understanding how the genetic profile affects the ability of children to cope with infection could pave the way to the development of low-cost genetic profiling tests in a not so far future. "Accurate diagnosis of the infectious agent is critical for appropriate treatment, of course. However, determining a patient's genetic predisposition to infection would allow us to be more aggressive in our treatment of patients, whether we are speaking of vaccines or preventive drugs", Awadalla says.

Explore further: Breakthrough in malaria research looks to body's immune cells

Related Stories

Breakthrough in malaria research looks to body's immune cells

November 25, 2011
Groundbreaking research from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research is set to pave the way for the development of new malaria drugs and vaccines.

Multiple malaria vaccine offers protection to people most at risk

October 26, 2011
A new malaria vaccine could be the first to tackle different forms of the disease and help those most vulnerable to infection, a study suggests.

Recommended for you

Study identifies genes responsible for diversity of human skin colors

October 12, 2017
Human populations feature a broad palette of skin tones. But until now, few genes have been shown to contribute to normal variation in skin color, and these had primarily been discovered through studies of European populations.

Genes critical for hearing identified

October 12, 2017
Fifty-two previously unidentified genes that are critical for hearing have been found by testing over 3,000 mouse genes. The newly discovered genes will provide insights into the causes of hearing loss in humans, say scientists ...

Team completes atlas of human DNA differences that influence gene expression

October 11, 2017
Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have completed a detailed atlas documenting the stretches of human DNA that influence gene expression - a key way in which a person's genome gives rise to an observable ...

Genetic advance for male birth control

October 10, 2017
When it comes to birth control, many males turn to two options: condoms or vasectomies. While the two choices are effective, both methods merely focus on blocking the transportation of sperm.

Researchers uncover new congenital heart disease genes

October 9, 2017
Approximately one in every 100 babies is born with congenital heart disease (CHD), and CHD remains the leading cause of mortality from birth defects. Although advancements in surgery and care have improved rates of survival ...

Seeing hope: FDA panel considers gene therapy for blindness (Update)

October 9, 2017
A girl saw her mother's face for the first time. A boy tore through the aisles of Target, marveling at toys he never knew existed. A teen walked onto a stage and watched the stunned expressions of celebrity judges as he wowed ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.