University of Oxford-led Research Team Close to Achieving Malaria Vaccine to Stop Disease

Jun 16, 2019 | Malaria, RH5, Vaccines


The University of Oxford, UK is leading a multi-university research study develop a malaria vaccine that will finally prevent the malaria parasite from entering blood cells, which could hold the key to creating the first effective vaccine against malaria infection in the blood.

MEA Worldwide (MEAWW) reports that Matthew Higgins, a study co-author reports “We next need to design novel vaccine components which cause the human immune system to generate only the most effective and most protective antibodies. Developing vaccines against a challenging pathogen like malaria is a slow process. But we are already testing a vaccine component designed to specifically cause one of the most protective antibodies to be induced.”

Malaria Deadly

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there were 219 million malaria cases worldwide in 2017. It was responsible for 435,000 deaths globally that same year.  The disease occurs when a mosquito with the infection bites the human and the parasite first goes into the human liver and thereafter progresses into the bloodstream—it thereafter replicates 10X in the blood cells each and every 48 hours. After, the infection that leads to the illness often becomes fatal.

The Study

The malaria parasite has a protein called RH5, which must bind to a human protein on the red blood cells called basigin to infect them.  Published in the journal Cell, the Oxford-led team was able to demonstrate which human antibodies effectively block RH5 from binding with basigin, thus stopping the parasite from spreading through the blood.

The key breakthrough was that the team has been able to demonstrate the ability to use the antibodies to block the parasite from penetrating the blood cells. The team also found a new key antibody, which works by slowing down the speed in which RH5 binds to red blood cells.

Lead Research/Investigator

Matthew Higgins, Department of Biochemistry University of Oxford

Simon Draper, Professor of Vaccinology and Translational Medicine, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford