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A Malaria Vaccine May Be On the Horizons

Harold Mandel's picture
A mosquito which could transmit malaria

Malaria is a widespread and potentially deadly disease. Hundreds of millions of people across the world are hit with malaria every year. Malaria can be particularly devastating when it hits children. Initiatives to wipe out malaria globally have not been effective as of this time. There is now talk of a possible vaccine for malaria being possible.

Scientists have been studying what happens to erythrocytes, which are red blood cells, when they are hit with the malaria causing Plasmodium falciparum, as reported upon by Nature Communications. The invasion of erythrocytes by Plasmodium falciparum merozoites has been observed to be a very complex multi-step process. Insights into the mechanisms behind this process have suggested new targets for malaria intervention.

Scientists from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have found a way to block the invasion of the blood cell by the malaria parasite by focusing in on a primary process during the invasion of the blood cell by the malaria parasite, reports Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on Dec. 16, 2013. Lead scientist Professor Peter Preiser says this new knowledge will be used to collaborate with the health industry on a vaccine directed against malaria which can be developed within the next five years.

Professor Preiser, who is Chair of NTU’s School of Biological Sciences, has said his team’s scientific breakthrough will be important to help set the stage for eradicating malaria in the long run. Malaria is a big problem on the planet. Approximately 3.3 billion people, which is half of the world's population, are actually at risk of malaria. Malaria, which is a mosquito-borne disease, causes fever and headache and in more serious cases, can cause a patient to fall into a coma and can even result in death. In 2010 alone malaria infected about 219 million people. This disease kills about 860,000 people worldwide every year.

Professor Preiser says a low cost vaccine which is effective in making the malaria parasite harmless would save millions of lives and this should also benefit the economy by millions of dollars every year. Preiser has commented we have identified a region of the malaria parasite which it uses to attach to a healthy blood cell then pushes itself into the cell. In order to block this invasion the researchers have developed antibodies which can interfere with this invasion process. Professor Preiser has commented, "So imagine the parasite has the key to unlock a door to the red blood cell, but we muck the key up, so no matter how hard the parasite tries, the door just refuses to open.”

Professor Preiser’s research team spent five years on this study. The development of a new screening assay which allows the rapid characterization of parasite signalling which is significantly faster than conventional methods has made this research outcome possible. With this newly invented technique a high-throughput fluorescence scanning approach is used. With this technique, when antibodies or drugs fail to prevent the invasion of the red blood cell by the malaria parasites, the sample lights up.

When the antibodies work, the sample remains dark. This allows for the ultra rapid characterization
of thousands of compounds as well as antibodies in regard to their ability to interfere with the invasion process. The NTU research team is planning to use their new technique to identify other antibodies which can target the different components of the malaria parasite, and potentially lead to future treatment and vaccine breakthroughs for the often fatal malaria disease.

The World Health Organization explains that malaria is caused by a parasite which is called Plasmodium. This parasite is transmitted from the bites of infected mosquitoes. The parasites multiply in the liver and then infect red blood cells in the human body. About 10 to 15 days after the mosquito bite fever, headache, and vomiting occur with malaria. If not treated quickly and effectively malaria can rapidly become life-threatening by interfering with the blood supply to the body's vital organs. Parasites have developed resistance to many malaria medicines in many parts of the world. Primary interventions to control malaria include:

1: Prompt and effective treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies

2: Use of insecticidal nets by people at risk

3: Indoor residual spraying with insecticide to control the vector mosquitoes

Malaria eradication appears possible, according to EmaxHealth reporter Tamar Najarian.

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In 2010 of the more than 200 million people who suffered from malaria with about 650,000 deaths, the vast majority of cases were in children under 5 years old, writes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. People in about 100 countries across the world must remain extremely vigilante to avoid being infected with the malaria parasite. Developing countries in particular are very vulnerable to malaria,

Parasites which are spread by mosquitoes cause malaria. Even when cases of malaria are considered relatively mild there may be:

1: High fever

2: Chills

3: Flu-like symptoms

4: Anemia

Children who survive cases of severe malaria may suffer from lifelong mental disabilities. Lost productivity from malaria is estimated to be in the billions of dollars yearly.

Malaria can be both prevented and treated. In fact it has been shown that malaria can actually be eliminated. Malaria was prevalent across the entire world, including Europe and North America, less than a century ago. Aggressive prevention measures and more effective monitoring and treatment programs gradually brought malaria under control and finally led to the elimination of malaria. The World Health Organization defines this as the complete interruption of mosquito transmission of the disease for a period of three or more years. This significant goal was achieved in the United States in 1951.

In developing nations gains are being made in the control of malaria. The incidence of malaria has fallen by at least 50 percent in the past decade in one-third of the countries worldwide where the disease is endemic. These gains have been made with a firm commitment to several interventions,

1: Timely diagnosis and treatment using reliable tests and anti-malarial drugs

2: Indoor spraying with safe insecticides

3: The use of long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets to protect people from mosquito bites at night

However, the tools and treatments which are presently available have been found to be insufficient to achieve elimination of malaria in many countries, and so global eradication seems elusive at this time. Furthermore, malaria could rebound very quickly as the parasites begin to develop resistance to insecticides and treatments which are currently available. Each of these forms of resistance have already begun to emerge as serious potential threats to effective and affordable control of malaria. Therefore, an effective vaccine is exactly what is needed to conquer the serious threat of malaria.

It has been my observation that the threat of malaria is in fact a major threat in many nations worldwide. The United States should not be complacent about this threat simply because malaria has been eradicated for now in the country. Considerations of worldwide travel to places where malaria remains a life threatening problem, such as Southeast Asia and Africa, international business and professional interests, humanitarian concerns, and the possibility of resistance to insecticides and treatments causing a rebound of the disease in the United States should encourage American interests to remain in the forefront of initiatives to wipe out malaria globally. The promise of a malaria vaccine offers us the greatest hope that the war against malaria can be won. Joining the fight against malaria is a worthy cause, with superstars Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers having joined the cause, writes EmaxHealth reporter Armen Hareyan.