A vaccine which could spell the end of the scourge of malaria may finally be within reach.
Researchers at Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics have been able to induce malaria immunity in animals and are now poised to advance first-stage human trials.
New research approach
Professor Michael Good said the research team had taken a new approach to creating a vaccine for malaria; the mosquito-borne disease which afflicts a quarter of a billion people around the world. One million sufferers die each year and the vast majority of those are children under the age of five.
“Previous studies have focused on individual antigens on the parasite or in the infected red blood cell, and while some of these studies showed promise none translated to success in late-stage clinical trials,” Professor Good said.
“We have taken a different approach by working with an immune response to the whole malaria parasite.
Malaria parasites were treated in the test tube with a chemical which blocked the ability of the parasite to multiply and so when given to mice they did not get sick.
“To our great surprise we found that those animals were then protected, not just against the same strain of malaria parasite they were treated with, but against every strain we exposed them to,” Professor Good said.
Towards human clinical trials
“While this study was undertaken in laboratory animals, we believe these results provide a compelling rationale for testing a vaccine targeting human malaria parasites.
“One of the most exciting findings in this study is that the vaccine protected against multiple strains of malaria as this has been the greatest obstacle to date in developing an effective vaccine. The vaccine will also be very cheap to make.”
The study findings have been published online in “Cross-species malaria immunity induced by chemically attenuated parasites” for the leading international journal, The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Director of the Institute for Glycomics, Professor Mark von Itzstein said the research team had produced outstanding results.
“This is a very significant advance in our understanding of malaria and the potential for preventing infection in humans,” Professor von Itzstein said.
“I am delighted to see this world-leading research now progressing to human clinical trials and I join in the call for volunteers to take part.”
There are stringent suitability requirements so not everyone who would like to volunteer will be able to do so. As the trials will be conducted on the Gold Coast, volunteers will need to live in South East Queensland so they can be monitored daily, but the rewards may be greater than anyone can imagine.
“There are currently 247 million cases of malaria across 109 different countries,” Professor Good said.
“Of the million sufferers who die each year, 85 per cent are young children who are simply not strong enough to fight off the killer parasite. If this vaccine works, the world will be a very different place.”
Anyone wanting to become a volunteer should contact Dr Danielle Stanisic who is leading the clinical trial. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.