Malaria kills one to three million people worldwide each year, and the quest for an effective and safe vaccine poses unique scientific challenges. The Malaria Research Program at the Emory Vaccine Center applies a global approach to this problem. The program encompasses basic research aimed at understanding the parasite and the disease, pre-clinical vaccine testing in mice and non-human primates, as well as clinical studies involving people living in malaria-endemic regions. Of paramount importance is the inclusion of systems biology approaches.
Scientists identify and evaluate optimal malaria vaccine candidates, develop delivery systems for selected targets and study their safety and immunogenicity, paving the way for eventual clinical trials. A major focus is on understanding the molecular mechanisms that govern and regulate antigenic variation of parasite proteins encoded by multigene families, and the relationship of these proteins to the virulence of the parasite and its ability to evade the immune system. A commitment to deepening our understanding of malaria infections and the pathogenesis of the disease is at the core of much of the research.
The EVC’s Malaria Research Program was established by Dr. Mary Galinski beginning at the time of the opening of the vaccine center premises in 1999. Key to the success of the program are the unique specialized scientific backgrounds of its investigators in P. falciparum and P. vivax malaria vaccine target discovery, basic molecular biology and molecular evolution studies with an emphasis on understanding the invasiveness and pathogenic characteristics of the parasite in non-human primate models as well as humans, basic immunology with experience in designing and implementing both pre-clinical and clinical malaria vaccine trials, entomology expertise, and over 25 years of combined experience working in malaria endemic communities. This research group is among only a few worldwide with the ability to study in depth both of the major human malaria species, several non-human primate malaria species, and rodent malarias. The comparative analysis of each of these diverse infections allows for a broad and in depth understanding of the parasite and the disease.
Scientists researching malaria at the EVC work closely with Yerkes’ investigators and the veterinary staff at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Joint investigations have included the testing of malaria vaccine candidates for the US Naval Medical Research Program and the Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) at PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health); pathogenesis studies of malaria in pregnant rhesus monkeys, and studies of anemia caused by malaria. This groupalso collaborates locally with other scientists at Emory, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Georgia. Additionally, the EVC malaria scientists interface with collaborators from other US institutions, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, India, Papua New Guinea, Singaporeand several countries in Africa and Europe..