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Researchers have found that a genetic alteration common in West Africa can provide almost complete protection against malaria, without adverse side effects.

Italian researchers report in the 15 November issue of Nature that school children from Burkino Faso carrying the haemoglobin C gene are much less likely to develop malaria than those with the typical version of haemoglobin.

Another version of haemoglobin, haemoglobin S, also protects against malaria, but it has a steep cost: People carrying two copies of the haemoglobin S gene develop severe sickle cell anaemia.

Understanding how haemoglobin C works could help guide the development of vaccines and drugs for malaria, which kills 3,000 children a day in Africa.

References: Nature 414, 305 (2001)
Science 294, 1439 (2001)

Link to paper in Nature

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