Malaria, one of the most deadly diseases in the world, seen in Asia, Africa and other places is caused by a minute organism known as plasmodium parasite in which small organisms called mosquitoes are the vector.
Its destructive effect has been seen in the human population for some time and different drugs have been employed to treat this deadly infective organism that has plagued the society for so long. Though it has gained drug resistance, it still could be dealt with using the proper drugs and its effect can be prevented or at least reduced.
In this article, we are considering the effect of this plasmodium parasite on sickle cell individuals who may be homozygous (SS) or have the recessive trait in a heterozygous (AS) fashion.
Sickle Cell Disease is an Inherited disorder in which red blood cells are abnormally shaped when seen under the microscope. Individuals who inherit two copies of the sickle cell mutation (one copy from their father and another one from their mother) have the sickle cell disease(SS) and those who receive only one copy of the gene from any of their parent possess the recessive trait known as AS.
This article highlights the relationship between people with the abnormal sickle cell gene and malaria.
Earlier,it was thought that the sickle cell gene protects against infection by the malaria parasite but recent studies from Miguel Soares and Ana Ferreira shows that it prevents the disease taking hold after the animal is infected.
Soares team found that in mice with abnormal hemoglobin gene, they have haem,which is a component of hemoglobin absent in normal mice, and haem was injected into the blood of normal mice before infecting them with malaria and it was found that they did not developed the disease, but it was discovered that high level of free haem in blood caused malaria infection and further studies was done and Miguel Soares and his team was able to show that the main player in this protective effect is an enzyme called heme oxygenase 1,whose expression is strongly induced by sickled cell haemoglobin, this enzyme produces carbon monoxide which had previously show to confer protection against cerebral malaria.
As a result, the frequencies of sickle cell carriers are high in malaria-endemic area.
It has been determined that sickle cell trait provides 60% protection against overall mortality by the CDC
Most of this protection occur between 2-16 months of life, before the onset of clinical immunity in areas with intense transmission of malaria.
Other Research showed that sickle cells infected with Plasmodium falciparum collapse and prevent the parasite from interfering with the cell’s action proteins, protecting the host again malaria.
Knowing this relationship is helpful to physicians, sickle cell patients and carriers and also important in the treatment of malaria and as a whole the general population.