Japanese researchers leading research on malaria vaccine

Researchers at two Japanese universities are spearheading efforts to develop a vaccine against malaria as fears of a global epidemic rise.

The mosquito-borne disease has been rapidly spreading in Africa and Asia, threatening the lives of millions of people every year. According to the World Health Organization, malaria caused an estimated 627,000 deaths mostly among African children in 2012.

With rising global temperatures, the risk of a malaria epidemic has also increased especially in tropical regions.

Researchers at Ehime University in western Japan have embarked on a research that could save many lives by developing a vaccine that could prevent malaria infection. Researchers at the university’s Proteo-Science Center has begun searching for vaccine candidates. Using their newly developed wheat germ cell-free protein synthesis system, the center will synthesize proteins based on a study of 23 malarial parasite genes and test how antibodies made from these proteins work against the parasite, The Nikkei has learned.

CellFree Sciences, an affiliate bioventure of the university, will mass-produce candidate proteins and supply them to US-based PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative for use in animal studies. They will select the most promising candidate malaria vaccines by October 2015.

Another team of researchers at Osaka University led by professor Toshihiro Horri has begun clinical trials with substances called adjuvants that enhance malaria vaccine they are developing.

The adjuvant has been tested in monkeys wherein the result was that antibody production has increased 10-fold, reducing the number of animals developing the symptoms of malaria by 90 percent, according to Horii.

The candidate has been tested among humans in Uganda and 70 percent of the 66 people who received the vaccine did not develop the disease for a year.

Both university efforts, funded in part by a public-private partnership between the Japanese government, private companies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is hoped to see a breakthrough in the outbreak of malaria, one of the world’s three most devastating infectious diseases.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: US Army Africa/Flickr

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