Malaria causes fatigue, fever, seizures and, if untreated, coma and death in almost half of the world. It is spread easily by the bite from an infected Anopheles mosquito and is endemic in tropical countries of regions such as Latin America, Asia and the sub-Saharan Africa.
- Children under five, pregnant women, people with HIV/AIDS and non-immune migrants are most at risk.
- 80 per cent of victims are children.
Developed at the Institute for Glycomics Griffith University, PlasProtecT® is a novel malaria vaccine candidate. PlasProtecT® consisting of whole malaria parasites that are grown in the laboratory under strictly controlled conditions. These parasites are then treated so they can no longer replicate or cause infection. When these treated parasites are administered as a vaccine, an immune response is raised without causing disease. The immune system is then primed to fight malaria parasites that may enter the body in the future, preventing malaria.
Researchers from Griffith University and the Gold Coast University Hospital have now developed the vaccine to “whole blood stage”. PlasProtecT® uses whole malaria parasites, so it overcomes the limitations of sub unit vaccine approaches and have already shown broad spectrum protection in animal studies. One of the researchers – Griffith University’s Professor Michael Good – is so convinced it is safe he has become the first person to inoculate himself with the trial vaccine. This means they have shown the vaccine is safe for humans to take and for human tests to go ahead.
Professor Good and fellow researcher Danielle Stanisic first began clinical trials in 2013 with Gold Coast University Hospital.
Professor Good said he wanted to take the vaccine to show it was safe.
“I wouldn’t ask people to do what I wouldn’t be prepared to do, and we couldn’t do this without the volunteers who give their time to us knowing they are helping further work towards a cure,” he said.
For the past four years volunteers have taken the trial vaccine two days a month.
The trial vaccine “inactivates” human malaria parasites, preventing them from growing and causing a malaria infection.
Dr Stanisic said when pre-clinical trials were successful the research team decided to push on to the human trials in 2013.
“We’ve now taken a human version of the vaccine and tested it in volunteers and shown it is safe and induces an immune response,” she said.
“This is a world first. We are the first to put a vaccine like this into humans that has potential to protect against multiple strains and species of malaria.”
Associate Professor Culleton, from the Malaria Unit at the Institute of Tropical Medicine at Nagasaki University, Japan said the research was an extremely important step forward.
“This work is an exciting advance in the development of an effective malaria vaccine,” Professor Culleton said.
“We desperately need new approaches to the control and eventual elimination of malaria, an insidious disease that preys on young children in the tropics,” he said.
He said the Griffith University research approach gave it an advantage over previous research.
“Most of the malaria vaccines currently in development are based on single parasite proteins,” Professor Culleton said.
“Good and Stanisic’s approach is radically different,” he said.
“It uses an attenuated form of the whole malaria parasite, which, in theory, should provide the immune system with multiple targets against which it can mount a response.”
He stressed it was still preliminary data that had to be tested against many strains of malaria.
“(However) if their vaccine achieves this cross-species protection, it would be a huge step forward towards a malaria-free world.”
Gold Coast Health director of infectious diseases Dr John Gerrard said the Gold Coast University Hospital oversaw the medical standards for the research.
“For the past four years, eight medical specialists have provided medical oversight for the volunteers participating in the trial,” he said.
There are approximately 3.2 billion people currently living with malaria.
The Griffith University and Gold Coast Medical Hospital project will be formally launched on Monday by Australia’s Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.
Rotary District 9640 has partnered with Griffith University Institute for Glycomics to raise funds of $500,000 to assist with the larger clinical trials in humans in countries where malaria is a major health risk. Donate here……
The next round of trials will prove that the vaccine – which has now been shown to be safe for humans to take – is effective at killing the malaria parasite!