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New link between sickle cell anemia and severe malaria discovered – Eurasia Review

Malaria the parasites may have adapted so that they can cause severe malaria in people with sickle cell disease sickness, a to study suggests.

Sickle cell disease, a group of conditions that can make red blood cells sickle-shaped, has become common in Africa because the genes responsible for the disease can help prevent malaria in infancy, according to World Health Organization (WHO).

However, a study published in the December edition of Nature, found that specific changes in three regions of the malaria parasite genome could be responsible for malaria infections in people with sickle cell disease.

“The [malaria] the parasites that cause disease in people with sickle hemoglobin are almost always specific types of parasites, ”says Gavin Band, lead author of the study and statistician at the Wellcome Center for Human Genetics, University of Oxford.

“They have these specific alleles [two or more forms of genes] in these three regions of the parasite genome. It is an exciting discovery never known before.

Researchers looked for genetic variants in more than 3,000 children in The Gambia and Kenya who had developed severe malaria.

Their results suggest that the deadly malaria parasites appear to have evolved to be able to attack people with normal hemoglobin and sickle hemoglobin, with the potential to cause severe disease in those who are normally considered unlikely to bear the brunt of malaria by Sub-Saharan Africa. .

“Parasites have large genomes,” says Band. “They evolve on much faster timescales than humans and we actually know that they can evolve very quickly in response to the selection pressures that we have seen with the response to. antimalarials in the past.”

The results are a step towards developing treatments for the problem, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

“It would be great if in the future it could lead to something for people with sickle cell disease, but that’s not where we are now,” Band said. SciDev.Net. “The next step would be that we need functional studies to find out what these variants do.”

Wellington Oyibo, professor of medical parasitology at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, commends researchers for identifying an association between severe malaria in people with sickle cell disease and different regions of the malaria parasite genome.

“The belief that sickle cell patients… are protected from malaria is not entirely true,” he says.

“We have vulnerable groups described as children under five, pregnant women and children. Now basically we want to point out that sickle cell patients might still have malaria and need special care and protection, including early diagnosis and home prevention, ”Oyibo adds.

* Ijeoma Ukazu is a Nigerian journalist and graduated from the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT) in Enugu State, Nigeria with an advanced credit in Mass Communication. He also holds a Graduate Diploma (PGD) in Journalism from the National Open University of Nigeria. . She corresponds for the English Sub-Saharan Africa edition of SciDev.Net.

This piece was produced by The English Sub-Saharan Africa desk of SciDev.Net.