A novel malaria vaccine that combines the use of a disabled cold virus with an immune system-stimulating gene could be the key in preventing malaria, say researchers.
At the same time, the group led by Andrea Amalfitano of the College of Osteopathic Medicine also discovered another immune-system stimulating agent - created at MSU and which has been successful in improving immune responses in vaccines for diseases such as HIV - paradoxically made for a less effective malaria vaccine.
Both of the findings will help researchers develop more effective vaccine platforms in general, and malaria vaccines specifically, hopefully leading to human clinical trials soon, Amalfitano said.
"Researchers across the globe are working on ways to prevent people from becoming infected with malaria," said Amalfitano of the disease that kills up to a million people each year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Some vaccines are showing promise, but they are not as effective as they need to be for any mass distribution."
Amalfitano and his research team are focusing on one such vaccine platform, spearheaded by the U.S. Army, that targets a certain gene on the malaria parasite, a protein called Circumsporozoite Protein, or CSP.
That protein is thought to play a key role in creating an immune response to the malaria parasite; past research shows people infected by malaria multiple times will begin creating an immune response to this protein, suggesting at some level it could be protective.
"What we are looking to do is improve the ability of the vaccine to induce immune responses to that protein," Amalfitano said. "We are adding genes to the vaccine to try and stimulate the immune system."
Those genetic agents, similar to chemical adjuvants, are stimulants that improve the ability of vaccines to induce beneficial immune responses in general.
The study has been published in the journal PLoS ONE.