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Wednesday 26th October 2016

O blood defends against malaria

20th November 2007

Those whose blood is in the O group may already have a natural defence against severe forms of malaria, according to recent research carried out among African children.


A team at the University of Edinburgh took blood samples from children with severe malaria, moderate malaria, and malaria-free children in a study in Bandiagara, Mali.

Led by Alex Rowe, the team found that O blood types were 66% less likely to have developed severe, life-threatening forms of the mosquito-borne disease.

The O type children had far fewer clumps, or 'rosettes', of red blood cells in their samples than children of A or B blood types, according to the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rosettes appear when red blood cells infected with the malaria parasite - Plasmodium falciparum - stick to uninfected red blood cells, possibly to hide the parasite from the host's immune system.

Rosetting contributes to severe malaria by blocking the flow of blood through small blood vessels.

Rowe said the study confirmed the importance of rosetting in severe malaria, and offered possible pathways to new forms of treatment for those who have blood types A or B.

The researchers now aim to develop a drug which targets the rosettes, breaking them up in the blood of children with severe malaria.

One compound - curdlan sulphate - has already been used with this aim in mind, but can also cause bleeding.

Rowe said his team was aiming for a second-generation of drugs based on curdlan sulphate, which would be able to break up the rosettes but with minimised side-effects.

He said the results of his team's research looked promising.

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