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April 14, 1993

Newfound Genetic Defect Hints at Clues for Developing Novel Antimalarial Agents

JAMA. 1993;269(14):1765. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03500140011002

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A RECENTLY identified genetic defect responsible for egg-shaped red blood cells in certain Asian populations may help scientists develop novel antimalarial agents.

The defect, which makes red blood cell membranes too rigid for malarial parasites to gain entry, appears harmless to humans who are heterozygous, says Jiri Palek, MD, professor of medicine at Tufts University Medical School and chair of biomedical research at St Elizabeth Hospital, Boston, Mass.

"In tropical areas of Southeast Asia, where malaria remains a prevalent health threat, large segments of the population enjoy a resistance to malaria due to the condition called ovalocytosis," Palek says. "It is one of the few genetic abnormalities that, as far as we know, is entirely beneficial to those who carry it."

The resistance to malaria associated with the inheritance of egg-shaped red blood cells set Palek and his colleagues to look for the underlying molecular defect. They found it in