Newborn babies who are born with a high level of an immune-related protein in their blood cells are less likely to develop malaria throughout their early childhood, a study revealed.
The research showed that babies born with a high level of a certain type of immunity proteins cytokine, known as IL-12, in their umbilical cord blood had a higher resistance to the development of malaria in the first two years of their life.
"The finding suggests that there is a strong link between levels of this IL-12 protein obtained from the umbilical cord blood and the development of malaria in early childhood," said lead author Yong Song, from Curtin University in Australia.
With more than 90 per cent of malaria infections occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, childhood malaria remains one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality, resulting in 500,000 deaths annually.
The team also investigated how newborn babies develop high levels of IL-12 in the cord blood.
"We found that the inbred quantity of these small proteins was not only influenced by children and mother's genetic variation, but was also dependent on the immune system conditions of the mother during pregnancy," Song noted.
For the study, published in the Journal of Scientific Reports, the team examined 349 Mozambican pregnant women and their newborn babies up to two years of age.
"The study could have significant implications for future vaccine design techniques that could assist with the prevention of malaria in high-risk countries such as Mozambique," said co-author Brad Zhang, Associate Professor from Curtin's School of Public Health.