A new study leads researchers to several novel genes that make some children more efficient than others in the way their immune system responds to malaria infection.
The study was conducted by researchers from Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center in collaboration with the University of Montreal.
"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,"
Youssef Idaghdour, lead author of the study, said.
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 blood samples of children from the Republic of Benin, West Africa, collected with the help of collaborators in the city of Cotonou and the nearby village of Zinvie.
"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 said.
"We used an innovative combination of technologies that assessed both genetic variation among children and the conditions in which their genes are "expressed"," Pr. Philip Awadalla said.
"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.
"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," Pr. Awadalla added.
The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.