New strategy for vaccinating pregnant mothers against malaria holds promise for protecting infants

September 5, 2017

A mother and infant in Malawi have the same repertoire of antibodies to Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria parasite. That suggests that boosting the mother's immune response to malaria, as via vaccination, will result in better protection for the infant. The research is published August 23rd in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology.

A pregnant woman's antibodies pass from her blood across the placenta, into the fetus, thereby providing some protection against infection at birth. "In sub-Saharan Africa, protection against is very important," said corresponding author Miriam K. Laufer, MD, MPH, Director, Division of Malaria Research, Institute for Global Health, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Malaria parasites do their damage when they invade the host's red blood cells. Each P. falciparum parasite has a handful of different surface antigens that it expresses on the surfaces of the blood cells that it has invaded. But collectively, there are lots of different malaria antigens. An individual's immune system needs to have antibodies that recognize a wide range of antigens, in order to be able to bind to all of the parasite-containing , and thereby expunge the infection.

In the study, the investigators assayed serum from 33 mothers at delivery, and cord blood from their . Theirs was the first use of a customized high throughput microarray that included a wide array of malaria antigens. This enabled them to test infant seroreactivity to a large, diverse group of potential vaccine antigens that are present in P. falciparum in Africa. "Maternal antibody levels against vaccine candidate antigens were the strongest predictors of infant antibody levels," according to the report.

The investigators further showed that infant seroreactivity to any given antigen was nearly identical to mean maternal seroreactivity. This was the case regardless of whether or not the placenta had been infected during pregnancy, answering a lingering question in the field that bore heavily on how well a maternal vaccine strategy might work.

Vaccinating mothers during pregnancy "may be a very effective strategy for protecting infants from malaria," said Laufer. "This is critical because young children are at the highest risk of dying from infectious diseases such as malaria. In addition, preventing infection during infancy may help ensure healthy growth and cognitive development in infants and young children."

But so far, malaria vaccines in mothers have been ineffective at boosting immunity in infants, although the strategy has worked for other vaccines, such as tetanus. "When most researchers examine immune response to malaria, they use the most convenient malaria parasites, the ones that have been adapted to grow in the laboratory," Laufer explained. "However, these are not necessarily similar to the parasites seen in nature." She noted that a clinical trial of a that used a laboratory strain did not protect against naturally occurring strains of , although it was effective against this laboratory strain. That, she said, led her research team to develop and use tools that could assay diverse surface antigens that exist in the world outside of the laboratory.

Explore further: Modified experimental vaccine protects monkeys from deadly malaria

Related Stories

Modified experimental vaccine protects monkeys from deadly malaria

May 22, 2017
Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, modified an experimental malaria vaccine and showed that it completely protected four of eight ...

Improving human immunity to malaria

August 1, 2012
The deadliest form of malaria is caused the protozoan Plasmodium falciparum. During its life-cycle in human blood, the parasite P. falciparum expresses unique proteins on the surface on infected blood cells.

Discovery finds possible new route to malaria vaccine

December 28, 2015
Oxford University researchers across the globe are working to beat Malaria. Now, a team of Oxford scientists in the UK and Kenya, working with colleagues in three Swiss institutes, have found two people who could reveal a ...

Studying the body's immune response to malaria infection could help scientists find life-saving vaccines

January 4, 2017
Three malaria proteins that trigger an immune response in infected individuals have been identified by A*STAR researchers. These proteins could underpin a new vaccine against the world's deadliest parasitic disease.

Lifting malaria's deadly veil: mystery solved in quest for vaccine

August 6, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers at the Burnet Institute have made a major breakthrough in the quest for a vaccine against malaria, which causes up to one million deaths each year.

Researchers make a key discovery in how malaria evades the immune system

May 25, 2016
The malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum hijacks an immune system process to invade red blood cells, according to a study led by researchers at Penn State College of Medicine. Understanding how malaria invades the cells ...

Recommended for you

Two Group A Streptococcus genes linked to 'flesh-eating' bacterial infections

September 22, 2017
Group A Streptococcus bacteria cause a variety of illnesses that range from mild nuisances like strep throat to life-threatening conditions including pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome and the flesh-eating disease formally known ...

Ecosystem approach makes urinary tract infection more treatable

September 22, 2017
The biological term 'ecosystem' is not usually associated with urinary tract infections, but this should change according to Wageningen scientists.

Residents: Frontline defenders against antibiotic resistance?

September 22, 2017
Antibiotic resistance continues to grow around the world, with sometimes disastrous results. Some strains of bacteria no longer respond to any currently available antibiotic, making death by infections that were once easily ...

Individualized diets for irritable bowel syndrome better than placebo

September 21, 2017
Patients with irritable bowel syndrome who follow individualized diets based on food sensitivity testing experience fewer symptoms, say Yale researchers. Their study is among the first to provide scientific evidence for this ...

Superbug's spread to Vietnam threatens malaria control

September 21, 2017
A highly drug resistant malaria 'superbug' from western Cambodia is now present in southern Vietnam, leading to alarming failure rates for dihydroartemisinin (DHA)-piperaquine—Vietnam's national first-line malaria treatment, ...

A dose of 'wait-and-see' reduces unnecessary antibiotic use

September 21, 2017
Asking patients to take a 'wait-and-see' approach before having their antibiotic prescriptions filled significantly reduces unnecessary use, a University of Queensland study has shown.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.