Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Haemoglobin Variant Gives Strong Protection against Malaria. (News)

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Haemoglobin Variant Gives Strong Protection against Malaria. (News)

Article excerpt

A genetic variation of haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein found in red blood cells, can almost completely abolish the risk of falciparum malaria, the most lethal form of the disease, according to a study in West Africa reported by African and Italian researchers in the 15 November issue of Nature. Having two copies of the gene for the variant, called haemoglobin C, provides "almost complete protection" against the disease, according to malaria researcher and study team leader Dr Mario Coluzzi of the University of Rome La Sapienza.

Moreover, haemoglobin C comes with few unhealthy strings attached. Mild anaemia and, in some adults, gallstones are the only adverse effects. "Compared to all other red blood cell mutations that protect against malaria, haemoglobin C is not associated with serious health problems," says Dr David Modiano, lead author of the study.

Scientists have known for years that another version of the haemoglobin gene, haemoglobin S, shields against malaria by crippling the red blood cells that malaria parasites need to survive. The abnormal haemoglobin distorts red blood cells into a sickle shape, and these misshapen cells along with any parasites they contain are destroyed by the spleen. But with haemoglobin S, malaria protection comes at a cost. People with two copies of the haemoglobin S gene often develop potentially lethal sickle-cell anaemia.

Earlier work by other research teams, including an epidemiological study in Mali and laboratory experiments on parasite proliferation, had suggested a link between haemoglobin C and malaria resistance, but the results were inconclusive. The Rome team confirmed the protective effect of haemoglobin C by studying the blood of 4348 children of the Mossi ethnic group in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The majority of the participants were healthy, but 835 of them had malaria caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum. …

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