Malaria infections in pregnant women could result in an increased fetal proliferation of malaria antigens. This was found by researchers who used samples from a study based in Uganda to determine whether malaria infections during pregnancy caused any adjustment in fetal immune responses to the disease.
By stimulating cord blood cells in vitro, they discovered that fetal cells from cases of Placental Malaria (PM) — also known as Pregnancy Associated Malaria — were more reactive to Plasmodium antigens, producing more T cells (a type of white blood cell that plays a central role in cell-mediated immunity). The study revealed that children born to mothers infected with malaria continued to display a higher frequency of T cells due to exposure to PM for the next two years, and consequently, had 70 percent lower incidence of malaria compared to infants with lower T cell count. This research was led by Pamela M. Odorizzi of the University of Pennsylvania and was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on October 17.
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Malaria is one of the most widespread, costly and lethal diseases in the world today, causing around one million deaths per year. Over 40 percent of the global population lives in areas at high risk of malaria outbreaks.. PM is primarily caused by an infection with Plasmodium Falciparum (considered the deadliest genus of Plasmodium that infects humans). Pregnancy-associated malaria can cause complications such as low birth weight.
The research conducted by Odorizzi and her team not only increases humankind’s understanding of the pre-birth immune system, it also has significant implications for malaria control programs.