Unit | Molecular Immunology

The Molecular Immunology unit develops and evaluates new technologies for the design and immunological testing of candidate vaccines, analysis of the genetic and antigenic diversity of pathogens and the contribution of the immune system to the efficacy of therapeutic interventions. This research focuses primarily on three infectious diseases: malaria due to Plasmodium falciparum, bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitides and Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Mycobacterium ulcerans disease (Buruli ulcer).

Gerd Pluschke, Professor, PhD

Malaria

P. falciparum: developing a synthetic subunit candidate vaccine

Malaria is one of the most serious infectious diseases of humans. 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.

We are 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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Meningitis

Meningococcal meningitis: clonal waves of colonisation and disease in the meningitis belt of sub-Saharan Africa

Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency and remains one of the major health problems in Sub-Saharan Africa. The three most important agents are Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae.

The bacterial meningitis project involves longitudinal studies of the molecular epidemiology of comparatively carriage and disease of N. meningitidis and S. pneumoniae. The studies are being carried out in Northern Ghana and Burkina Faso and aim to enhance the understanding of the dynamics of meningitis epidemics in the African Meningitis Belt.

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Buruli Ulcer

Mycobacterium ulcerans infection (Buruli ulcer): towards improving control, diagnosis and therapy

After tuberculosis and leprosy, Buruli ulcer, caused by M. ulcerans, is the third most common mycobacterial disease. Buruli ulcer is a chronic necrotising disease of the skin and the subcutaneous tissue. M. ulcerans is unique among mycobacterial pathogens in that it is mainly extracellular and produces a plasmid-encoded toxin, named mycolactone. Mycolactone is believed to play a central role in pathogenesis and immunology.

The goals of our research are to improve understanding of the pathogenesis, immunology and transmission of Buruli ulcer, develop methods for early diagnosis, and investigate prospects for improving therapy and vaccine development.

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Owusu E, Newman M.J, Akumwena A, Bannerman E, Pluschke G. Evaluating decontamination protocols for the isolation of Mycobacterium ulcerans from swabs. BMC Microbiol. 2017;17:2. DOI: 10.1186/s12866-016-0918-x

Favuzza P et al. Structure of the malaria vaccine candidate antigen CyRPA and its complex with a parasite invasion inhibitory antibody. Elife. 2017(in press). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.20383

Bénard A, Sala C, Pluschke G. Mycobacterium ulcerans mouse model refinement for pre-clinical profiling of vaccine candidates. PLoS One. 2016;11(11):e0167059. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0167059

Scherr N, Pluschke G, Panda M. A comparative study of activities of a diverse set of anti-mycobacterial agents against Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium ulcerans. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2016;60(5):3132-3137. DOI: 10.1128/AAC.02658-15

Ampah K.A et al. A sero-epidemiological approach to explore transmission of Mycobacterium ulcerans. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2016;10:e0004387. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0004387