Blood platelets, neutrophils and the spleen have novel roles in people with malaria, according to new research from Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Menzies School of Health Research.
Graduating this week with a PhD, rising star researcher Dr Steven Kho has already discovered an immense amount of information about the mosquito-borne disease.
Dr Kho works on field studies in the remote area of Timika on the southern coast of Papua, Indonesia, and has gone from strength to strength since he started at Menzies seven years ago.
Originally from Indonesia, Dr Kho came to Darwin as a research assistant in malaria and now leads groundbreaking research into several interrelated areas of malaria at Menzies.
“My research investigates first-line defence mechanisms against the malaria parasite,” Dr Kho said.
“I have found that platelets, known for their blood-clotting properties, can bind to and kill malaria parasites in infected patients, helping reduce the number of parasites circulating in their blood.”
Dr Kho also found that a particular white cell releases what is referred to as traps or NETs that can capture malaria parasites in the patient’s blood. His research cautions that too many NETs may worsen the disease.
“My research on patients undergoing spleen removal for trauma indicates these individuals have a higher risk of getting ill with all parasite species causing malaria in the first year after surgery. This has led to implementation of a new malaria prevention treatment strategy in these patients in Timika.”
So far, Dr Kho has published his PhD findings in three high-impact journals. He is working on a fourth publication and it is a potential game changer in understanding malaria biology.
“It seems there is more to the spleen than just helping to fight the infection,” Dr Kho said.
He will reveal these results for the first time next month at the International Conference on Plasmodium Vivax Research in France.
“I am very much looking forward to sharing this important research with fellow malariologists in Europe – I would like to thank Menzies and CDU for the amazing opportunity and for facilitating this work, and for all their ongoing support throughout the years,” Dr Kho said.