Host projects

Understanding genetic factors that protect people against malaria

Our host projects address the question of why, in regions where people are repeatedly exposed to malaria parasites, some people die from the infection while others survive. While genetic factors play an important role in a person’s susceptibility to malaria, at the time MalariaGEN was formed, the genes responsible were largely unknown or poorly understood. By discovering and studying genes that confer natural resistance to malaria, we are gaining vital clues about the molecular basis of protective immunity against malaria, which can in turn accelerate the development of an effective vaccine or treatment. 

MalariaGEN investigators are working together on four consortial projects that address different aspects of this scientific problem:

Through these projects, we've generated a rich resource of clinical and genetic data from almost 30,000 participants—11,890 children and adults with severe P. falciparum malaria and 17,441 healthy controls—from across multiple locations in Africa, Asia and Oceania.

We are undertaking a genome-wide association (GWA) analysis by typing millions of genetic variations in people who developed the most severe forms of malaria—either cerebral malaria (coma) or anaemia or both—and comparing them to control subjects recruited from the same populations. Many of these studies are being undertaken in Africa, where the vast majority of malaria deaths occur (WHO Malaria Report, 2014).

Studying these associations in tens of thousands of people enables us to better understand the genes involved in malaria susceptibility and to gain insight into the evolutionary struggle between the parasite and its human hosts.

This work represents a massive collective effort spanning nearly a decade, thus far. In the process, we’ve helped to develop new statistical tools, data-sharing methodologies, and have influenced ethics practices in the context of global health research.

Learn more about our human GWAS data.

Selected Publications

  • Malaria Genomic Epidemiology Network. Reappraisal of known malaria resistance loci in a large multicenter study. Nat. Genet. 2014 Nov;46(11):1197-204. PMID 25261933
  • de Vries J, Bull SJ, et al. Ethical issues in human genomics research in developing countries. BMC Medical Ethics (2011) 12:5. PMID 21418562
  • Teo YY, Small KS, Kwiatkowski DP. Methodological challenges of genome-wide association analysis in Africa. Nature Reviews Genetics (2010) 11, 149-60. PMID 20084087
  • Jallow M, et al. Genome-wide and fine-resolution association analysis of malaria in West Africa. Nature Genetics (2009) 41, 657-65. PMID 19465909
  • Parker M, Bull S, et al. Ethical data release in genome-wide association studies in developing countries. PLoS Medicine (2009) 6, e1000143. PMID 19956792
  • Malaria Genomic Epidemiology Network. A global network for investigating the genomic epidemiology of malaria. Nature (2008) 456, 732-7. PMID 1907905