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How Maternal Malaria Reduces Foetal Growth

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The discovery of why malaria in pregnancy leads to an increased risk of low birth weight babies could enhance the prospects of neonatal survival in the 85 million pregnancies exposed to malaria globally every year.

Lead researcher Dr Philippe Boeuf of the Burnet Institute said that low birth weight is the main risk factor in about 80% of neonatal deaths. Low birth weight children are also at a higher risk of intellectual development issues, and are more susceptible in adulthood to chronic diseases such as diabetes.

“Before now, no one understood the link between being infected with malaria in pregnancy and having an increased risk of delivering a low birth weight baby,” Boeuf said. “But we’ve identified the first mechanism that links the two, and this gives us the opportunity to try to improve foetal growth, and therefore, birth weight. “Because low birth weight is the main cause of neonatal death, if we improve the birth weight, this could have a significant impact on neonatal survival, and allow a healthier adult life.”

The study, published in BMC Medicine, demonstrates that inflammation caused by malaria disrupts a signalling pathway called mTOR. This impairs the capacity of the placenta to transport amino acids from maternal blood to the foetus – a major determinant of foetal growth and therefore birth weight.

The focus on mTOR gives...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.