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article imageBeneficial bacteria help fight malaria

By Tim Sandle     Dec 13, 2014 in Health
Lisbonne - Specific bacterial components in the human gut can help trigger a natural defense mechanism that guards against malaria transmission. This has come from a new study.
The new research argues that if scientists can induce the production of antibodies against alpha-gal it is possible to slow-down or block the transmission of malaria. The new research presents another example of the role that gut bacteria (the microbiota) play in tackling or promoting disease within the human body.
Malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite belonging to a group of organisms called Plasmodium. The parasite is transmitted by mosquitoes in territories in some 100 countries and the disease presents a risk to about 3.3 billion people. Mosquitoes spread the parasite to humans through their bites; the parasite then travels to the liver, where it matures and reproduces in forms that infect the red cells and cause clinical symptoms.
What seems to be at play, from the new research, is that some bacteria express surface sugar molecules called glycans. These glycans are recognized by the human immune system and this leads to the production of high levels of circulating natural antibodies. Research suggests that natural antibodies directed against sugar molecules expressed by the gut bacteria can also recognize similar sugar molecules expressed by parasites like those which cause malaria (the Plasmodium parasite.)
Studies have shown that the anti-alpha-gal antibodies activate a path in the human immune system called the complement cascade. This cascade can then kills the Plasmodium parasite before it can move out of the skin if anti-alpha-gal antibodies are present in sufficient numbers at the point where a mosquito carrying the malarial parasite bites the skin. This blocks the transition of the parasite from the skin into the blood stream.
Knowing this could lead to a possible candidate to be used as an anti-malarial medication. Further studies would be required in terms of clinical trials.
The research was performed at Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC) in Portugal) and the study results have been published in the journal Cell. The research paper is titled “Gut Microbiota Elicits a Protective Immune Response against Malaria Transmission.”
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