Malaria's most wanted: Identifying the deadliest strains to design a childhood vaccine | 3/20/2018 | Staff
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Researchers have identified a 'genetic fingerprint' associated with the most deadly strains of malaria parasites, making these unique DNA regions potential targets for vaccine development.

An international research team led by the University of Melbourne found a small group of proteins was associated with the most severe strains of malarial infections, which are often fatal in young children who have not yet had a chance to develop a strong immune response to the parasite.

Burden - Mortality - Malaria - Children - Dr

"We know that the great burden of mortality for malaria is in children under five," said Dr Michael Duffy, senior author on the study, from the University of Melbourne School of BioSciences and Bio21 Institute.

"But why children are at such high risk of death by malaria, and why some children die while others survive, has frustrated clinicians and scientists for years," he said.

Difference - Parasites - Malaria - Parasites - Cause

"To better understand this difference, we compared the parasites causing the most severe malaria to parasites that cause uncomplicated or mild disease, which can be resolved by the immune system."

University of Melbourne Dean of Science Karen Day led a team that developed a 'fingerprinting' technique to identify different strains of malaria. The technique uses the parasite's var genes as a unique identifier. These genes code for different versions of the protein PfEMP1, which are expressed on the surface of red blood cells infected by malaria.

Parasite - Genes - Parasites - Gene - Mosaic

Each parasite has 60 of these genes that are different to other parasites and each gene is a mosaic of parts that can be shuffled to create new genes. The parasite also shuffles through the genes it uses like a pack of cards, thus appearing like different strains able to hide from our immune system.

Dr Duffy and his colleagues used RNA sequencing to sample parasites isolated from the blood of 44 adults in a location in which malaria is endemic in the...
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