Burnet researchers have made a major advance in the quest towards a vaccine against malaria, which causes up to 600,000 deaths each year, mainly young children.
This new research, published in the prestigious international journal, Immunity, reveals the discovery of a key strategy used by the body’s immune system to protect against malaria infection.
Head of Burnet’s Centre for Biomedical Research, Professor James Beeson said the discovery of how antibodies work in partnership with other proteins in the blood, known as complement, in blocking malaria infection, opens the door towards an effective vaccine.
Currently, there is no effective vaccine for malaria, a disease that is spread to humans by mosquitoes resulting in an infection in the bloodstream and in red blood cells, causing illness and often death.
“Exploiting this malaria-blocking activity is a new approach in developing a vaccine. We have shown that it is possible to effectively generate this protective immune response by immunising humans with a candidate vaccine,” Professor Beeson said.
“We have known that antibodies on their own are not highly effective at blocking malaria, so they must be getting help from other parts of the immune system. This new research provides evidence that complement plays a key role in antibody-mediated immunity to blood- stage replication of Plasmodium falciparum malaria in humans.”
Professor Beeson said Burnet’s researchers will now apply this new knowledge to their strategies to create new and more effective malaria vaccines.
“Creating a vaccine that can rapidly induce this type of immune response in children, to prime the immune system to fight malaria when infected, may prove a valuable strategy to prevent the devastating effects of malaria,” he said.
The findings represent a major advance in understanding immunity to malaria and provide a much-needed strategy for the development and evaluation of vaccines.
“Despite recent advances in malaria control and prevention globally, it remains a huge burden and a vaccine is desperately needed,” Professor Beeson said.
Burnet collaborated with researchers from the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, LaTrobe University, and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
Click here to access the paper in Immunity.