Malaria is one of the biggest killers, and general health threats in Ghana, where it kills around 40,000 people per year. It is a huge health threat in many other countries around Africa and around the world. Researchers in Uganda may have found new information which could lead to a vaccine.

A LANDMARK study by Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Makerere University has indicated that it might soon be possible to develop a malaria vaccine.
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“For some reason, women in their first pregnancy lose the semi-immunity that is normally found in adults,” said Niloofar Rasti, a KI graduate student who has been working on the study. “The placenta seems to be an anatomically favourable environment for a subpopulation of the parasites.”
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Adults who have been infected several times can become partly immune as their defence system gradually starts to recognise the parasite’s proteins. When the placenta is formed, however, a new environment is introduced with a different set of receptors.

This means that a new growth niche is made available to a subpopulation of the parasites. Earlier studies had suggested that each protein from the parasite attaches to only one specific protein, a receptor, in the placenta.

“Most of the parasites we studied could bind to three different receptors in the placenta,” one of the researchers Niloofar Rasti said.

“This would mean that a future vaccine cannot be based on the principle of one protein-one receptor, as was previously believed.”

The Monitor (Kampala)
September 5, 2006
by Peter Nyanzi