According to a team of researchers in the tropics, infant deaths associated with malaria may be preventable. When a pregnant woman contracts malaria, blood vessels to the placenta do not develop correctly and cannot provide adequate blood flow to the fetus. Without adequate blood below, the fetus is born at a low birth weight. Increasing blood flow to the placenta can also increase weight thus counteracting the effect of malaria on the fetus.

The altered blood vessel development appears to be associated with the protein C5a and the C5aR receptor. Too much C5a protein and C5aR receptor prevent adequate blood vessel development so researchers attempted to block the protein and receptor. The result was increased blood vessel growth, improved survival rates, and increased infant birth weight. Researchers then completed the study again blocking only the C5a protein and achieved the same result.

Though the study focused on women with malaria who lived in Africa, researchers believe the information collected could prove useful for research into a myriad of conditions resulting in low birth weight infants. Ultimately the C5a protein and C5aR receptor could be the cause of low birth weight in pregnancies plagued by other tropical and non-tropical diseases. This study was completed on genetic models, not women so additional progression is needed to test the protein/receptor theory.

Source: Dr. Kevin Kain. SAR Labs, University Health Network, Sandra Rotman Center for Global Health and the University of Toronto.

  • University Health Network