This image shows mouse red blood cells infected with Plasmodium parasites, the causative agent of malaria. The cells with the blue ring-like structures inside of them are the malaria parasite-infected red blood cells called Merozoites, which are the blood stage form of the parasite. CREDIT: University of Washington

Dr. David Rawlings knows how painful and devastating malaria is—he had it several times in his early 20s while teaching grade school in Kenya.

“It’s a horrible infection,” said Rawlings, director of the Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “I had a high fever, severe headaches, chills and I couldn’t leave my house for days. I was fortunate to have medications that stopped the infection, but malaria these days is resistant to most of these drugs.”

Rawlings recovered from the bouts of malaria, but young children who get malaria are not always so lucky. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 214 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide in 2015 and resulted in 438,000 deaths, most of them children in Africa. The disease is a parasitic infection spread through the bite of infected mosquitos.

Seeing his young students in Africa come down with malaria is what pushed Rawlings to become an immunologist. He wanted to find a cure.

Today, researchers at the University of Washington and Rawlings’ lab at Seattle Children’s revealed a major breakthrough in malaria immunology research that they describe in a study published in the journal Immunity. Read full post »