Rosa Isela Gálvez, Ph.D.

What if immune “crosstalk” could make malaria partially protective against dengue fever?

Funded: January 2023

In tropical regions, where forty percent of the global population lives, the combination of poverty and numerous mosquito-borne pathogens present a unique challenge for the immune system. The immune system faces the task of dealing with multiple infections simultaneously, making it even more complex to study individual immune responses. My SPARK project focuses on T cell responses to two deadly infectious diseases in tropical regions: malaria and dengue fever. By analyzing samples from Ghanaian children, I aim to understand the immunological interplay between these infections and how T cell variations might impact dengue fever’s severity.

My central hypothesis suggests that recurrent malaria in early childhood leads to the development of cross-reactive T cells, offering initial protection against subsequent Flavivirus infections, and potentially reducing severe dengue disease.

So far, through my collaboration with the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany, I have examined 410 samples from children who were diagnosed with severe malaria, seeking possible undetected and asymptomatic dengue infections. As hypothesized, 17.3% of the tested sera had prior exposure to dengue virus without a previous dengue fever diagnosis. We are currently investigating whether T cells from these children show altered responses to dengue virus re-stimulation peptide pools, providing insights into the observed cross-reactivity mechanisms.

SPARKing Impact: My SPARK project will shed light on T cell responses between two of the deadliest infectious diseases: malaria and dengue fever. I will study how a history of previous and/or concurrent infections shapes a person’s immune response and thereby influences their disease outcome in a real life setting.