Malaria parasite can hide in bone marrow

Parasites that transmit the deadliest form of malaria are able to hide in their host’s bone marrow during development. A research team led by Matthias Marti, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard School of Public Health, is the first to confirm this long-standing theory. By analyzing autopsy tissue samples, they were able to pinpoint the location of niches where parasites escaped from the immune system. The study is the first to find statistically significant evidence in bone marrow of the parasite in the stage of its life cycle that is required for transmission of malaria to the mosquito.

The study was published online July 9, 2014 in Science Translational Medicine.

Marti called the discovery “exciting” in a BBC interview, and said that it identified “a key knowledge gap in the biology of the parasite.” The finding may lead to new drugs or a vaccine to combat malaria.

Read study abstract: Plasmodium falciparum transmission stages accumulate in the human bone marrow

Read BBC coverage: Malaria parasite ‘gets down to the bone’