Malaria is one of the most serious infectious diseases of humans, infecting 5–10% of the world’s population, with 300–600 million clinical cases and more than 2 million deaths annually. Moreover, malaria is a major social and economic burden in endemic areas. In recent years, malaria has spread at an alarming rate owing to the increasing resistance of the parasite to drugs, and the resistance of mosquitoes to insecticides. Therefore, new approaches to combat malaria are urgently needed, and a vaccine is predicted to have the greatest impact in addition to being the most cost-effective control measure.
One approach is to design a subunit vaccine that incorporates several malaria protein antigens for which there is evidence of protective immunity from epidemiological data or experimental animal challenge models. Development of such subunit vaccines is critically dependent on the availability of an antigen delivery system to drive suitable protein antigen-specific immune responses in humans. Vaccine formulations have to be highly effective, human-compatible and safe. Production of synthetic or recombinant proteins that stably mimic the native structure of the corresponding malaria antigens to induce effective humoral immune responses is a further major challenge.
We are addressing both problems by developing synthetic peptide structures that induce cross-reactive antibodies against the parent malaria proteins and by coupling them to the surface of immunopotentiating reconstituted influenza virosomes (IRIVs). In addition we are evaluating the use of so fare uncharacterized predicted proteins of Plasmodium falciparum as potential new candidate vaccine antigens.
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