Newly discovered malaria mechanism gives hope to pregnant women
Resistance to malaria drugs means that pregnant women are unable to overcome the anaemia caused by the malaria parasite – and their babies are born undersized. A study carried out at Karolinska Institutet, however, exposes the effects of malaria in pregnant women and shows how the PTEF protein is central to the infection. The study, which is published in the scientific journal Nature Microbiology, opens the way for new malaria drugs.
Some 50 million pregnant women contract malaria every year. The most common and most dangerous parasite, “Plasmodium falciparum”, affects both female carriers of the malaria parasite and their unborn babies. The parasite retards fetal growth by consuming vital nutrients and the babies are born undersized. The women are also affected by anaemia when the parasite infects the placenta.
When the parasite sends a 'glue protein' to the infected red blood membrane, tens, even hundreds of thousands of parasites can accumulate in the placental vessel wall and cause inflammation. First-time mothers, who have not built up immunity to the glue molecule, develop serious, chronic infections unless given prophylactic treatment. Due to growing resistance to modern malaria drugs, the treatments are not always that efficacious.