Several Tanzanian children, who are immune to malaria, are aiding scientists in their research to develop a new vaccine

Researchers from the Brown University School of Medicine have found that children, who are naturally immune to Malaria, produce an antibody — an infection-fighting protein that is produced in our immune system that attacks the malaria-causing parasite. Work is now underway to research ways in which the antibody and the children’s immune response can be used to develop a successful vaccine against malaria.

The antibody in the children’s blood had been produced by their immune system as a result of long-term exposure to the parasite in early life. It traps the parasite in the red blood cells, and hence prevent the parasite escaping and reaching the rest of the body.

At Brown University, Professor Jake Kurtis, divided 1,000 Tanzanian children, whose regular sample of blood had been taken during the early years. Through this, it was found that at least six per cent of the children screened were naturally immune to malaria. The antibodies were subsequently injected into mice, showing promise and it offered protection against the disease.

The disease is caused by small microorganisms called Plasmodium, of which there are numerous different causative strains. Plasmodium has a complex life cycle that involves both mosquito and human hosts. They develop from gametes in mosquitos and are introduced into the human blood stream when the mosquitoes feed. The early Plasmodium travels to the liver where it is able to divide and reproduce before re-entering the bloodstream for further development. Finally, the gametes are produced and distributed throughout the human blood to be reintroduced to a mosquito vector, and hence passed on to other human hosts.

Statistics from the World Health Organisation have shown that malaria has in fact, killed more than 6,00,000 people, with more than 90% of these death occurring across Africa. It is of no doubt that malaria has come to the forefront of global concern, as it has systematically disseminated across the continent, constituting to the death of millions, including foreign travellers.

Director of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, Dr. Ashley Birkett said, “The identification of new targets on malaria parasites to support malaria vaccine development is a necessary and important endeavour… While these initial results are promising with respect to prevention of severe malaria, a lot more data would be needed before this could be considered a leading vaccine approach — either alone or in combination with other antigens.” 

 The successful development of a malaria vaccine would have implication of those in the effected areas as well as the vast number of tourists and volunteer project workers that visit high-risk areas each year. Currently, the only option for tourists is regular oral anti-malarial tablets, resistance to which is becoming increasingly common. Last week, an aid worker from the U.K. died from the disease in Kenya.

There are more than 207 million reported cases of malaria, of which, more than half a million people die from the disease according to the International Health Organisation. Many of the cases are reported from the Sub-Saharan Africa, five per cent of which are children.

Bethan Young, Editor (Science) and Farhiya Ismail, Editors (Africa)

Image Courtesy: tpsdave, Released into the public domain | Pixabay