Malaria

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.

Current Projects

Past Projects

Donate today!

Save lives by giving to the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Appeal