Burnet reseachers discovered a malaria-blocking immune response that opens the door for an effective vaccine. Find out about this ground-breaking research by Professor James Beeson and his team that was published in the prestigious international journal, Immunity.
One of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity globally, malaria was responsible for around 438,000 deaths and 214 million clinical cases in 2015. An estimated 3.2 billion people are at risk of the disease, with young children and pregnant women most affected.
A parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes causes malaria. In the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells. Malaria is recognised as the most significant infection in human history responsible for many millions of deaths. If not treated, it can quickly become very serious and life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs. In many parts of the world, the parasites have developed resistance to a number of malaria medicines giving health workers great cause for concern.
The first symptoms – fever, headache, chills and vomiting – may be mild but if not treated within the first 24 hours a child can become severely ill. Every 45 seconds a child dies from this preventable disease.
Plasmodium falciparum, causes most clinical cases and deaths globally, however P. vivax is a second important cause of malaria and causes a high burden of disease in Asia and the Pacific region.
New drugs and particularly a malaria vaccine are required for the sustainable reduction of the global burden of malaria.
Drug and insecticide resistance
According to the World Health Organization, antimalarial drug resistance is a major concern for the global effort to control malaria. P. falciparum resistance to artemisinins has been detected in four countries in South East Asia: in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. There is an urgent need to expand containment efforts in affected countries.
For now, ACTs remain highly effective in almost all settings, so long as the partner drug in the combination is locally effective.
Mosquito resistance to at least one insecticide used for malaria control has been identified in 64 countries around the world. In May 2012, WHO and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership released the Global Plan for Insecticide Resistance Management in malaria vectors, a five-pillar strategy for managing the threat of insecticide resistance.
Understanding malaria dynamics in populations is key to implementing effective public health control measures as we strive towards the ultimate goal of malaria elimination.
Research and Public Health Focus
- Immunity to malaria in humans, vaccines, new treatment, mechanisms of infection of red blood cells and clinical studies on malaria
- Discovering new drug targets that can control the disease-causing asexual blood stage growth phase of the parasite life cycle
- Aim to identify new parasite surface antigens and novel enzymes that could be developed into a vaccine
- Population studies in malaria-endemic countries such as Kenya, Papua New Guinea and Thailand through collaborations with national research institutes based in those countries.
- Understanding why some people’s immune system successfully fights the disease and others succumb to it, especially children.
- Antibody engineering to study responses mediating protective immunity
This project will involve engineering antibodies against malaria parasite proteins.
- APPRISE - Centre for Research Excellence
The Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Diseases Emergencies (APPRISE).
- Broadly neutralising anti-HIV antibodies and Fc Receptor function
Defining the properties of anti-HIV antibodies for vaccine development and protection of pregnant women.
- Clinical studies on malaria
The negative consequences of malaria and how to prevent them in children and pregnant women.
- Developing new antimalarial drugs that block protein trafficking
Developing new antimalarial drugs that block protein trafficking and host cell modification.
- Developing new tests for malaria elimination: G6PD deficiency
This project focuses on the development of new G6PD deficiency diagnostics.
- Developing vaccines against malaria
This project aims to identify key antigens and specific epitopes that are targets of protective immunity.
- Discovering the mechanisms and targets of immunity against malaria
Identifying the key targets of protective immunity in people who live in malaria-endemic regions.
- Evidence and action for malaria elimination in Myanmar
Engaging public, private, military and civilian partners for targeted malaria elimination testing in Myanmar.
- Functional antibody responses to malaria vaccine candidates
Understanding how functional immunity develops to potential malaria vaccine candidates.
- Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies
A collaborative research program aimed at providing life-saving health care for women and children in PNG.
- HMHB - Health Services for Postnatal and Infancy Care
Focuses on services during postnatal period and through the first 12 months in East New Britain, PNG.
- HMHB: The impact of nutrition, malaria and STIs on pregnant women and infants
Determining the major preventable causes of poor maternal health and low birth weight of babies in PNG.
- Host red blood cell modification sustains the virulence of malaria parasites
Understanding how malaria parasites modify their human host cells to inform new antimalarials.
- IgG subclasses and immunity to malaria
This project focuses on the importance of antibody subclass for immunity malaria.
- Immunity against unstructured proteins in malaria
Assessing the importance of immune responses directed against unstructured proteins from Plasmodium species.
- Immunity to malaria during pregnancy
How are pregnant women affected by infectious diseases such as malaria?
- Immunity, drug efficacy and spread of antimalarial drug resistance
Identifying immune biomarkers to predict antimalarial efficacy is essential.
- Iron deficiency anaemia and adverse birth outcomes in a malaria-endemic region of Papua New Guinea
What is the prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia, how is it associated with adverse birth outcomes, and is the association modified by malaria?
- Major advances in understanding malaria immunity and biology
Identifying key targets of immunity, the mechanisms mediating immunity, and how it is acquired.
- Malaria Vaccine Delivery Platforms
This project is looking at the development of a blood stage vaccine against the Plasmodium falciparum species of malaria.
- Mechanism of antimalarial drug action
Understanding how blood-stage replication of Plasmodium could be targeted by vaccines and novel drugs.
- Molecular diagnostics for malaria elimination
This project involves the Richards Laboratory, Malaria and Tropical Diseases Group
- New treatments for malaria
In response to the need for new anti-malarial drugs to combat drug resistance, identifying and developing novel compounds that inhibit replication of Plasmodium parasites is required.Full details to follow
- Optima Malaria
Optima Malaria is a quantitative tool that assists with the allocation of budgets for malaria control programs.
- Paralysing malaria parasites
By understanding how parasites gain entry to human cells we can develop drugs that block and then paralyse the parasites so they can do no more harm.
- Vaccines against Plasmodium vivax and P. falciparum malaria
This involves identifying and prioritising candidate antigens for vaccine development.