Burnet Institute Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Dr Jo-Anne Chan
New Burnet Institute research published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases has revealed important insights into malaria immunity in young children that could be used to inform the development of a world-first effective malaria vaccine.
The work, based on a cohort study of children living in Papua New Guinea, is particularly important as previous studies on human immunity to malaria have mainly focused on African populations, and few have investigated immunity outside of Africa.
Severe malaria affects a small proportion of young children, particularly those under the age of five, but it’s unclear why some of these children progress to severe disease, while others only experience mild malaria.
“In this study, we found that children with antibodies to a particular antigen expressed by the parasite within the infected red blood cell were protected against severe disease, and only contracted a mild form of malaria,” lead researcher, Dr Jo-Anne Chan from Burnet’s Beeson Laboratory, said.
“We used novel techniques involving the genetic modification of malaria parasites to understand the importance of this antigen.
“We also showed that antibody levels to this particular antigen were boosted following infection, suggesting that children will acquire these antibodies through natural malaria exposure.”
The research team investigated how these antibodies function and showed they essentially coat the parasite to allow immune cells to ‘see’ them and remove them from circulation.
“Our findings bring us one step closer to understanding how we can potentially boost this immune response through vaccination,” Dr Chan said.
The complexity of the malaria parasite has made the development of a malaria vaccine a very difficult task.
At present, there is no commercially available malaria vaccine and the effectiveness of the most advanced vaccine candidate has been shown to be limited.
This work was conducted in collaboration with the PNG Institute of Medical Research, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, University of Melbourne, and University of WA.
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