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Hybrid protein offers malaria protection

Genetic variants found among some East Africans reduce disease risk

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2:19pm, May 18, 2017
Plasmodium falciparum

HACK THE ATTACK  A malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum is expert at invading red blood cells (shown in this colored TEM image). But a hybrid protein that spans the red blood cell membrane can thwart an attack, a new study found.

Dogged genetic detective work has led scientists to a hybrid red blood cell protein that offers some protection against malaria.

Reporting online May 18 in Science, researchers describe a genetic variant that apparently is responsible for the fusion of two proteins that protrude from the membranes of red blood cells. In its hybrid form, the protein somehow makes it more difficult for the malaria parasite to invade the blood cells.

Successful invasion by the parasite can cause flulike illness, and in severe cases, death. In 2015, 212 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and 429,000 people died, mostly young children.

People carrying the protective genetic variant are 30 to 50 percent less likely to develop severe malaria than those without, the researchers report. The genetic change was found largely in people from Kenya, Malawi

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