Australian researchers have identified a novel process used by the immune system to kill and clear malaria, a discovery that could facilitate the development of effective malaria vaccines.
The Burnet Institute (Melbourne) is an Australian medical research institute that combines medical research in the laboratory and the field with public health action to address major health issues affecting disadvantaged communities in Australia and internationally.
The research led by PhD student Liriye Kurtovic and supervised by Burnet’s Head of Malaria Research Professor James Beeson, is the first to establish that antibodies produced by the immune system interact with important proteins in the blood called complement to block the ability of malaria to establish infection. Importantly, the study also demonstrates that some children naturally develop high levels of these antibodies after malaria infections, which appear to protect them from malaria.
The study findings, published in the journal BMC Medicine, have the potential to inform the development of much-needed highly effective malaria vaccine.
RTS,S – the leading vaccine candidate that targets malaria before it infects the liver – provides only partial protection; 36 percent in children, and 28 percent in infants.
This research was conducted in collaboration with Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands; Case Western University, Cleveland, USA; Kenya Medical Research Institute; Papua New Guinea Institute for Medical Research; and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne.
The World Health Organization has set an ambitious goal to license a malaria vaccine that is at least 75 percent efficacious against clinical malaria by 2030. The global malaria burden reduced substantially between 2000 and 2015, but this trend has plateaued over the past few years because of increasing drug and insecticide resistance, and other factors. Of the annual estimated 200 million cases of malaria globally, around 500,000 result in death.