New discovery may help prevent life-threatening malaria in mums-to-be

Posted By: Staff
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Washington, Feb 5 (ANI): Danish scientists have made a novel discovery that would help in preventing life-threatening malaria in pregnant women and their unborn children.

The team from University of Copenhagen have identified a protein known as VAR2CSA that enables malaria parasites to accumulate in the placenta and can therefore potentially be used as the main component in a vaccine to trigger antibodies that protect pregnant women against malaria.

They are planning to test the efficacy of the protein-based vaccine on humans.

The malaria parasites accumulate in the placenta, resulting in children being born prematurely and underweight. The women are also at greater risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth.

"The malaria research group discovered the protein VAR2CSA, which is responsible for malaria parasite binding in the placenta, in 2003," said Associate Professor Ali Salanti from the centre.

"The aim is to produce a vaccine based on VAR2CSA which elicits antibodies that stop the parasite from binding to the placenta. The challenge for us has been to produce the entire protein in the laboratory, as it is very large and so technically complex.

"Now that we've managed to do this, we're a big step closer to developing a human vaccine, as we can already test it as a vaccine in animals."

The researchers tested the antibodies that were produced in the laboratory on a number of malaria parasites from pregnant women in Tanzania.

"These antibodies seem to be effective at preventing the parasite from accumulating in the placental tissue," said Professor Thor Theander from The Tanzanian National Institute for Medical Research.

"The next step is to investigate whether we can elicit the same antibodies and so protect against the disease by vaccinating humans. Then the vaccine will be a reality," Theander added.

The study appears in the Journal of Molecular Biology. (ANI)

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