A malaria endemic area on the Thai border
Burnet Institute researchers have uncovered a group of proteins that could form the basis of innovative diagnostics and effective vaccines against malaria.
These new findings, published in the international journal BMC Medicine, support the development of innovative sero-diagnostic tools, as well as vaccines against the liver and blood-stage of malaria.
Burnet’s Dr Freya Fowkes, Dr Julia Cutts, Professor James Beeson and Mr Paul Agius from the Centre of Population Health and Centre for Biomedical Research, along with Associate Professor Julie Simpson from the University of Melbourne, have identified proteins produced by malaria parasites during the liver and blood-stage that can actively produce immune responses. Some proteins were also found to protect people from malaria infection and illness.
Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites and is spread by mosquitoes. Plasmodium vivax is the most widely distributed form of malaria. Malaria parasites invade liver cells then red blood cells by producing specific proteins. Once inside cells, the parasites rapidly multiply, leading to massive numbers of parasites in the blood stream that can cause severe disease.
Burnet researchers identified the group of proteins by synthesising data from numerous scientific studies that had looked at the relationship between antibodies produced by the human immune system in response to malaria, and the ability of these antibodies to act as biomarkers for malaria infection or to protect against malaria.
Head of Malaria and Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Dr Freya Fowkes, said malaria caused by Plasmodium vivax was a leading cause of disease globally, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Malaria not only represents an enormous health burden, but it also has a profound impact on social and economic development in malaria endemic countries,” Dr Fowkes said.
“We urgently need new tools and control measures such as diagnostics and vaccines to reduce the burden of malaria and move towards elimination and eradication of the disease.”
Dr Cutts said the review of existing studies had illustrated how little was known about vivax malaria proteins and their suitability for use in diagnostics and vaccines.
“Only about nine malaria proteins have been well studied out of hundreds of potential proteins expressed during the parasite life-cycle,” she said.
“Also, we found that the majority of studies have been performed in South America which only represents a small fraction of the vivax malaria burden. There is an urgent need to coordinate more research in the Asia-Pacific region to understand how individuals living in these areas develop immune responses to these proteins. This will take us one step closer to developing diagnostics and vaccines against vivax malaria which will be applicable globally.”
The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Australian Research Council and a Victorian Government Operational Infrastructure Support grant.