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Pregnancy and malaria, a deadly combination

At a glance
The intern

Ina Werninghaus, University of Bonn, Germany

Hosted by

Stephanie Yanow, School of Public Health, University of Alberta

The research

Researching immunity to malaria 

This summer, Ina Werninghaus has travelled from Bonn, Germany to Edmonton, Alberta, where she’s using her background in molecular biology to take part in a research project on pregnant women’s immune responses to malaria.

Working under the direction of University of Alberta Professor Stephanie Yanow and PhD student Catherine Mitran, Ina is looking at samples from pregnant women in several regions in South America who have been infected with a type of malaria parasite called Plasmodium vivax. She’s then exploring the cross-reaction of those samples to that of pregnant women who’ve been infected by a different malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, to see if the first species can create antibodies that contribute to protection against the second species.

“Malaria in pregnancy is a different disease altogether and can have serious health effects,” says Ina.  According to the World Health Organization, malaria infection during pregnancy is a “significant public health problem with substantial risks for the pregnant woman, her fetus, and the newborn child.”

“We need to understand the development of the disease, and the first step is to look at how the body produces antibodies when infected by a species of malaria,” cites Ina. To test their hypothesis, the researchers are studying women in regions in Latin America that have varying levels of Plasmodium vivax.

The next step of the research project is to further understand the role of the parasites’ proteins involved in generating potential cross-reactive antibodies. The team’s findings could potentially lead to a malaria vaccine.

Ina says Mitacs Globalink has provided her with the cultural and educational experiences she was looking for. “Edmonton in the summer has a lot going on. I love the city. It’s beautiful. And weekend trips to the Rockies have been the cherry on the top.”

Following her return to Germany in the fall, Ina hopes to continue her education by pursuing her master’s degree. “The Mitacs Globalink program is an amazing opportunity to go abroad, dive into new experiences, and see how people conduct research in different countries. My internship in Canada is adding to my knowledge as a researcher.”


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; the China Scholarship Council; Campus France; the German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico; Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education; and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.