Severe malaria is responsible for at least 400,000 deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization. The University of Washington teamed up with the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Goa Medical College in India to find out what causes severity in the life-threatening disease.
The research team, which included affiliates of the department of global health in the School of Public Health, discovered that specific parasite proteins strongly predict severe malaria disease in adults.
The study showed that, in patients with severe malaria, red blood cells infected with the malaria parasite bind to a regulatory protein on blood vessels. This is called the endothelial protein C receptor. Adhesion proteins from the malaria parasite help facilitate the bond.
Led by Dr. Joseph Smith, a professor at the CIDR and affiliate associate professor of global health, the study used machine learning techniques to find patterns in the data and make this major malaria discovery.
The findings are a significant advancement in understanding the causes of severe malaria and they lay the groundwork for creating better treatments of the disease, according to the study.
The research appeared in the May 16 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Funding came from a National Institutes of Health project.