Posted on April 07, 2016

Qatar University College of Medicine (QU-CMED) students, faculty and researchers had the opportunity of a recent lecture on the link between malaria in pregnancy and cancer at a recent lecture conducted by molecular parasitology professor Peter Arnot of the Institute for Immunology and Infection Research in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh. In his lecture “The unexpected links between malaria in pregnancy and solid tumour cancers” Prof Arnot discussed the biochemical and cellular pathological processes which he said seemed to underlie “this unexpected, incompletely understood and yet potentially highly exploitable linkage” between malaria and cancer.

Prof Arnot said that human malaria is caused by 5 species of plasmodium protozoan parasites and is transmitted by the blood-feeding female Anopheles mosquito, and noted that the plasmodium falciparum (Pf) is the most common and most pathogenic species.  “It has been known for over 100 years that Pf malaria infections of the placenta are a serious complication in pregnant women”, he said. He added that 15 years ago, it first became clear that placental parasite infestation was the result of adhesion of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan (CSPG) to the syncytiotrophoblast cell surface, and that the P.falciparum receptor was a member of the antigenically-diverse PfEMP1 multigene family, VAR2CSA.

Prof Arnot posed the question whether the malaria receptor protein VAR2CSA also binds preferentially to abnormal, fast growing, invasive cancer cells.  He poined to a simple experiment that was conducted to see whether VAR2CSA-expressing Pf-infected red blood cells (RBC) can bind other cancer cell types.  The results he noted, were “crude but not without interest”. Prof Arnot also discussed the challenges of malaria vaccine research and of publishing findings on studies linking malaria and cancer.