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By Stephen Luntz

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Malaria Vaccine Target Confirmed

The importance of the protein PfEMP1 in the development of immunity to malaria has been demonstrated, marking a step towards a desperately needed vaccine.

Malaria infects human red blood cells and produces a range of proteins while it grows and multiplies within red blood cells. “People have long suspected PfEMP1 is an important protein in malaria, but increasingly the research community has identified a bunch of others, and the question is which are important,” says Prof James Beeson of the Burnet Institute.

Along with colleagues in Australia and Kenya, Beeson reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that people with immunity to the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum have antibodies that effectively target PfEMP1. On the other hand, the same protection against the disease is not achieved when the immune system targets other antigens.

Other species that cause malaria do not produce the PfEMP1 protein, but with P. falciparum representing three-quarters of the global disease burden of malaria, a vaccine that stimulates the immune system against the protein would represent a transformative step.

Beeson says the issue of why some people develop antibodies to PfEMP1, while others do not, is a complex one. “We know that the more infections people have, if they don’t die, the higher the chance is...

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