According to the World Health Organization, malaria, or malaria, is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to humans by the bite of infected female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. It is a preventable and curable disease.

Now, URJC professors and researchers in the area of Immunology Patricia Marín and Isabel González Azcárate, together with UCM professor JM Bautista, have published an article in the specialized journal 'Scientific Report' in which they explain their finding: the Identification of two immunogens, parasite proteins that stimulate the immune response against it in infected people.

As Professor Patricia Marín points out, "it represents a great advance in the field of this infectious disease." As explained in the article, the leap in knowledge of this pathology resides in the fact that the presence of antibodies against these proteins, such as START and PDI8, both in adult individuals with subclinical malaria (that is, with the detectable parasite in blood only by molecular techniques, PCR, but without symptoms) as in individuals without infection at the time of analysis (no detection of parasites by PCR or other techniques and no symptoms, therefore no infection) residents of endemic regions may be indicative of a relevant role of these antigens in naturally acquired immunity, since such antibodies persist in exposed individuals even in the absence of detectable parasites in the blood.

This new advance is especially important when treating the disease in the most affected group, children under 5 years of age, "that a higher titer of these antibodies is detected in children with subclinical malaria compared to those without it represents a Great opportunity to develop diagnostic strategies to identify these asymptomatic infected individuals who are an important reservoir of infection. Therefore, the most immunoreactive regions within the molecular structure of these immunogens (these regions are called epitopes) could be used in large-scale immunodiagnostic methods in malaria elimination programs. "

Diagnosing the asymptomatic is essential

Asymptomatic patients constitute one of the main transmission routes of malaria or malaria, therefore, this identification of protein functioning is essential when addressing this population group, as Professor Patricia Marín explains, “diagnosing asymptomatic patients is essential to control the transmission of the infection, and therefore for the future elimination and eradication of this disease, which must be remembered is transmitted by mosquitoes. It should be noted that children, under 5 years old, along with pregnant women, are the most vulnerable population groups to suffer from serious forms of malaria, such as cerebral malaria in children ”.

The incidence of subclinical malaria in the most affected regions, mainly African countries, is not yet known, but, as Professor Marín explains, "it can surely be high, especially in hyperendemic regions."

Marín adds, regarding this matter, that “it has been described that during childhood, incomplete and non-sterilizing immunity can be acquired after repeated exposures that can protect against the most serious forms of the disease, which is why children under 5 are the that often they suffer the most serious forms, and not so much the adults residing in endemic regions. But it is not a sterilizing immunity so that individuals over the years can and usually become infected, although sometimes they do not show symptoms or they do not give serious pictures of the disease, being reservoirs of infection. This will also depend on the immune status of the individual at a certain time. "

After the significant progress now made, the research team wants to "finish validating the potential of the identified epitopes, and continue to identify new ones, in broader population cohorts, and then develop immunodiagnostic techniques," says Marín.

Joint work for more than a decade

Professors Marín and González Azcárate have been working for more than 10 years with Professor JM Bautista, from UCM, who is leading the research in this field and, as Patricia Marín points out, it has been a very positive decade, “the joint work is very good , there is good harmony and perfect coordination between us. We do team meetings, we assign ourselves the tasks to advance and we communicate the progress and difficulties in its execution, with Dr. Bautista it is easy, sincerely he is one of those researchers for whom when you are studying at the university you decide that you want to dedicate yourself to research , it is a source of inspiration ”.

A joint work between two Madrid universities that is allowing important steps to be taken towards better and cheaper diagnostic systems that can help to begin to glimpse the eradication of malaria.

Raúl García Hémonnet
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