Paralleling the work done by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, a team in Michigan State University has created a malaria vaccine, which combines the “use of a disabled cold virus with an immune system-stimulating gene – that appears to increase the immune response against the parasite that causes the deadly disease.” (www.news-medical.net, 2011). Similarly, another group of researchers under the mentorship of Andrea Amalfitano of the College of Osteopathic Medicine have discovered a immune-system stimulating agent. But unfortunately, this agent has proven more effective in enhancing immune responses to diseases like HIV when compared to Malaria. But when the inferences of both these advancements are combined, scientists are equipped with knowledge to develop efficacious vaccine platforms for diseases including malaria.
The project led by Amalfitano tries to target a particular gene on the malaria parasite – a protein called Circumsporozoite Protein (CSP). This protein is believed to act in such a way as to provide an immune resistance to malaria parasite. Those subjects that have a past medical record of malaria infection naturally develop immune resistance to this protein, implying its potential as a vaccine. Essentially, what the researchers are trying to do is to enhance the potency of the vaccine to develop immune resistance to the protein. By adding select key genes to the vaccine, the immune system gets a boost –
“those genetic agents, similar to chemical adjuvants, are stimulants that improve the ability of vaccines to induce beneficial immune responses in general… In mouse models, the researchers used two such “gene-adjuvants”: rEA and EAT-2, both of which aimed to illicit improved immune responses to the malaria CSP gene. Surprisingly, the rEA agent – which was developed at MSU in part by the late Barnett Rosenberg – did not produce the desired result and in fact seemed to worsen the animal’s ability to generate an immune response to CSP. However, the EAT-2 gene-adjuvant stimulated the immune system in a different way, and Amalfitano and his team were able to increase the ability of the immune system to respond to CSP to a level that surpassed currently available malaria vaccine systems” (www.news-medical.net, 2011)
Although these results were not what the researchers were expecting, they were able to reach their goals ultimately. The results hold promise for manufacturing a viable vaccine in the near future. According to Amalfitano, “While the way that rEA is trying to stimulate the immune system may not be the best way for malaria, we did come up with an alternative adjuvant to effectively target the parasite.” (www.news-medical.net, 2011) The researchers are now keen to see whether malaria could be thwarted in animal models using the EAT-2 gene-adjuvant. This experiment is of great value, as the inferences arrived therein could help kick-start vaccine trials on humans.
In conclusion, there is much promise in recent research developments towards formulating a robust malaria vaccine. But, it must also be remembered that malaria has re-surfaced in regions that it were thought to be eradicated. The condition in Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be gloomy, with children being the most susceptible to the diseases. Sociologists have also recently identified interesting correlations between malaria outbreak and general quality-of-life parameters. They have found that improving socio-economic parameters also plays a crucial role in reducing occurrences. Hope also lies in the fact that those populations that are already exposed to a malaria outbreak develop a natural immunity to the disease.