The study was conducted by a team of researchers including Arnaud Chene and Qijun Chen at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
Burkitt's lymphoma severely affects a large number of children in equatorial Africa causing terrible suffering. In the disease immune cells turn cancerous and tumours build up in the lymph nodes, which often results in the swelling of the tongue and bulging of cheeks making it difficult for patients to eat.
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) which commonly causes glandular fever or 'the kissing disease' is believed to cause this cancer. Typically the virus is dormant, and thus relatively harmless after inserting itself into the carrier's DNA.
As part of the study, researchers analysed whether CIDR1, a protein produced by the malaria parasite could reactivate EBV, by exposing the immune cells of healthy African children who had Epstein-Barr virus, to CIDR1.
Researchers exposed the same cells to another parasite-related protein for comparison in a separate laboratory dish. Researchers found that in three days the levels of EBV in the CIDR1-exposed cells was five times that in the control dish. Moreover, the immune cells were twice as compared to that in the dish containing CIDR1.
The research suggested that CIDR1 was able to reactivate the Epstein Barr virus that results in overproduction of immune cells leading to lymphoma.
"If you get malaria first [before the Epstein-Barr virus], then you acquire some immunity to malaria after that. So if you are exposed again the parasite cannot stimulate the overproduction of cells," News Scientist quoted Qijun Chen, as saying.
The findings of the study were published in the Journal PLoS Pathogens.