A New Target for Malaria Vaccines

An article published in Experimental Biology and Medicine (Volume 246, Issue 1, January, 2021, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1535370220961764) describes a new target for the development therapies and vaccines for malaria. The study from the West African Centre for Cell Biology of infectious Pathogens at the University of Ghana in Accra (Ghana) reports that peptide antibodies against a new merozoite protein (PF3D7_1459400) block parasite entry into red blood cells.
Malaria is a major global health problem with 2.5 billion people at risk of the disease and death. Global elimination of malaria requires an effective vaccine. Despite the huge public health burden of the disease, limited numbers of vaccine candidates are currently under development, and the most advanced candidates display modest efficacy. The development of an effective malaria vaccine has been slow due to limited understanding of the parasite’s biology, including proteins involved in parasite entry into red blood cells. Identification and characterization of new parasite proteins involved in red blood cell invasion will provide novel targets for host immunity and prioritize candidates for vaccine development.
In this study, a team led by Dr. Gordon Awandare used protein structure algorithms to identify hotspots within the target parasite protein. Antibodies generated against peptides encoding these hotspots were specific and blocked parasite invasion of human red blood cells. In addition, plasma samples from malaria-exposed individuals in Ghana recognized the peptides, confirming their immunogenic nature. Dr. Emmanuel Amlabu, the lead author of the study, said “To identify new blood-stage proteins as potential vaccine candidates, a systematic screening procedure was implemented, and this work fills the gap in knowledge for one of the uncharacterized proteins in the parasite”. Dr. Awandare added that “A major challenge in the development of peptide-based vaccines is insufficient knowledge on the selection criteria for immunogenic peptides. We have mitigated that limitation by using protein informatics tools to define less-variable and immunogenic regions within the protein which turned out to be resourceful”.
Dr. Steven R. Goodman, Editor-in-Chief of Experimental Biology & Medicine, said “Dr. Awandare and colleagues have provided relevant information regarding a newly characterized parasite protein and have established that peptide antibodies against the protein block infection of red blood cells by parasites. Thus, their study is a vertical leap in the area of peptide-based infection-blocking vaccine development for malaria”.
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Source: Experimental Biology and Medicine