July 5, 2013
Breakthrough … mosquitoes spread malaria. Photo: iSTOCK
Queensland scientists say they are closer to developing a vaccine for malaria, which kills about 660,000 people world-wide a year.
But first the Griffith University team need human volunteers to test their unusual approach.
Researchers at the university’s Institute for Glycomics have found a way to make white blood cells attack the malaria parasite, potentially guarding against every known strain of the disease.
“It’s quite a unique approach to the vaccine,” says senior researcher Dr Danielle Stanisic.
Existing vaccines rely on antibodies to do the attacking, but these are more easily evaded by the shape-shifting parasite.
The Queensland researchers have tested the vaccine on mice and are now looking to start clinical trials on humans in the next few months.
For the first trial stage, Dr Stanisic is seeking six people who will need to meet exacting criteria. The second stage will involve about 30 participants, before a large study is launched in a country badly affected by malaria.
Dr Stanisic says participants can help eliminate a devastating disease.
“It’s the parasitic disease associated with the most morbidity and mortality worldwide,” she said.
More than 200 million people are living with malaria world-wide.
Malaria caused about 660,000 deaths – mostly among African children – in 2010, according to the World Health Organisation.
UNICEF estimates that one child dies of malaria every minute.
Symptoms include headaches and muscle aches, profuse sweating, diarrhoea, and vomiting.
The World Health Organisation declared Australia malaria-free in 1981 but travellers still bring cases into the country.
Queensland has seen 66 cases this year and 100 the year before, according to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System.
Professor James McCarthy, head of infectious diseases at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, says most Australian case involve people infected in countries such as Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands.
Fly-in fly-out miners working in Africa have also started to bring the disease home.
“It usually presents with a flu-like illness, and the problem is that unless the doctor and the patient think that it could be malaria, the right tests aren’t done, and therefore the diagnosis doesn’t get made as quickly as it should be,” Professor McCarthy said.
“In Australia, every few years we have a fatality, usually because of late diagnosis.”
Would-be volunteers can email firstname.lastname@example.org.