Photo courtesy of the United Nations
Australian scientists at Melbourne’s Burnet Institute are claiming a medical breakthrough on malaria which could lead to a vaccine against the mosquito-borne disease that claims about a million lives each year.
Researchers have reportedly analyzed the antibodies of adults and children in Kenya who have developed immunity to the potentially fatal blood disease which is caused by a parasite that is transmitted to human and animal hosts by the Anopheles mosquito.
The study's findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, "show that people who are immune to malaria develop antibodies that primarily target a protein known as PfEMP1, which is produced by Plasmodium falciparum, the causative organism of most cases of malaria," reveals Burnet Institute.
"The puzzle has been, what is the key point of attack of the immune system against malaria? We’ve established that one particular protein of malaria is the key point of attack of the immune system,” said James Beeson, head of Burnet institute’s Centre for Immunology and the study's senior author.
Researchers have discovered that some people in Kenya who contract the disease and recover, develop an immunity against subsequent attacks.
Burnet Institute explains: People who recover from malaria develop antibodies that coat the malaria-infected red blood cells so that they are destroyed by white blood cells (the body’s killer immune cells). The new studies show that the PfEMP1 protein is the major target of these protective antibodies.
In 2010, the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) warned, "about 3.3 billion people – half of the world's population – are at risk of malaria. About 216 million malaria cases were reported (with an uncertainty range of 149 million to 274 million).
Worse yet, the WHO estimated 655,000 deaths (with an uncertainty range of 537,000 to 907, 000) for 2010 alone.
Death rates like these continue to make malaria one of the world's biggest killers. In signs of hope, WHO says that increased prevention and control measures have led to a reduction in mortality rates by more 25% globally since 2000 and by 33% in the WHO African region.
But it is breakthrough findings like this that embrace the potential for making life-saving medical history, in this case a vaccine for malaria.
As its Mission Statement, Burnet Institute says it aims to "achieve better health for poor and vulnerable communities in Australia and internationally through research, education and public health."
Now that's walking the talk.