Mary Prahl, MD, is the 2014 recipient of the Merle A. Sande/Pfizer Fellowship Award in International Infectious Diseases. This award encourages young physicians interested in international medicine to support their research conducted in a resource-limited setting.
Currently, Dr. Prahl is a pediatric infectious disease fellow at the University of California, San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital. She received her medical degree from the University of Minnesota and completed residency in pediatrics at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago/Northwestern University.
Dr. Prahl's research will investigate the immunologic consequences of prenatal exposure to malaria using samples and data obtained from a randomized trial of chemoprevention during pregnancy and early childhood underway in Tororo, Uganda, a region of exceptionally high malaria exposure intensity.
Dr. Prahl hypothesizes that maternal exposure of malaria antigens in utero can induce immune tolerance in infants interfering with the development of childhood antimalarial immunity. Using cord blood and placental biopsy samples, she will assess the relationship between in utero exposure to malaria, the frequency and suppressive function of T cells, cytokine production and the cellular immune response to malaria in neonates.
Demonstration of fetal immune tolerance to malaria would support the adoption of improved strategies to combat childhood malaria, including aggressive chemoprevention during pregnancy and early childhood to reduce exposure fo the developing immune system to malaria antigens. Such a finding would also be of great importance for infant malaria vaccination strategies, which may need to be combined with chemoprevention for maximum effectiveness.
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