14 Apr 2014

NZ researchers investigate possible gout/malaria link in Pacific

8:01 pm on 14 April 2014

A team of New Zealand researchers plan to travel to Papua New Guinea as part of their work looking into a possible link between gout and protection against malaria among Pacific people.

Gout causes severe pain, often in the big toe, and is the result of high levels of uric acid, or urate, which can form crystals that lodge in joints.

Otago University PhD student, Anna Gosling, says the disease is prevalent among Pacific Islanders and Maori, who have high levels of uric acid.

She says that may be the result of an evolutionary change to protect against the mosquito-borne infection malaria.

"It's at this point just a working hypothesis which we are hoping to test soon, we are hopefully going to do some field work up in Papua New Guinea to test it but it seems like an interesting idea and in some ways it is quite logical - you know, high levels of urate must have been advantageous somehow otherwise why would it develop?"

Anna Gosling says malaria probably never existed in Polynesia but ancestral populations passed through areas with endemic malaria, including New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.