Geoffrey Siwo, and his group of Scientists in South Africa have found a link between a particular type of malaria resistance and the likelihood of cancer metastasis in some patients of African descent.
This scientist at IBM Research Africa and his team in Johannesburg have been aiming to predict and attempt to solve Africa’s future health issues. Such ambitious ideals meant they had to start noticing trends in the region– one being that in some African countries the population was becoming wealthier and aging slowly; however the burden of cancer was greater. In 2015, the older population (aged 65 and over) exceeded 1 million in 11 African countries, including Nigeria, 5.6 million; Egypt, 4.6 million; and South Africa, 3.1 million. The team was fascinated by how cancer starts to interact with other diseases prevalent in the region, such as malaria. Using publicly available data they attempted to map how cancer spreads through the body, in what’s known as metastasis. Among the data they stumbled upon something remarkable — a gene possibly linking people whose cancers lead to metastasis, particularly in breast cancer patients, and people showing resistance to malaria. Many Africans have a distinct form of the Duffy Antigen Receptor [DARC] gene compared to other world populations. A mutation of this gene, “makes most Africans less susceptible to a type of malaria caused by [the parasite] Plasmodium vivax,” Siwo told CNN.
DARC encodes a protein that is used by the parasite to get into human red blood cells. Most Africans have a mutation of this gene that doesn’t allow it to be expressed in red blood cells, and therefore the parasite finds it difficult to get into the red blood cells of these individuals — giving those with the mutation a high level of resistance.