Malaria Research

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 Emory’ investigators and the veterinary staff at the Emory 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 group also 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, Singapore and several countries in Africa and Europe.

The Malaria Host-Pathogen Interaction Center

The Malaria Host-Pathogen Interaction Center (MaHPIC) was established in September 2012 by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the US National Institutes of Health. The MaHPIC team will conduct systems biology research with the benefit of a five-year NIAID contract award of up to $19.4 million, depending on contract options exercised, as noted in the project’s original press release.

The Malaria Host-Pathogen Interaction Center (MaHPIC) is led by Emory University, with three main partner institutions: the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Emory National Primate Research Center of Emory University is administering the contract. The project also includes a prestigious Scientific Consultation Group. The MaHPIC team is using the comprehensive modern research approach called “systems biology” to study and catalog in molecular detail how malaria parasites interact with their human and  other animal hosts and cause disease. The central unifying hypothesis of this project is that “Non-Human Primate host interactions with Plasmodium pathogens as model systems will provide insights into mechanisms as well as indicators for human malarial disease conditions”.

The MaHPIC project is extremely innovative, with groundbreaking plans to integrate data generated by malaria research, functional genomics, proteomics, lipidomics and metabolomics cores, with the aid of informatics and computational modeling cores. The amount of data to be generated and integrated is unprecedented. The MAHPIC team has the potential for major breakthroughs that ultimately will advance our understanding of malaria and help diagnose, prevent or treat the disease. This research is fundamental to developing and evaluating new malaria diagnostic tools, antimalarial drugs and vaccines for different types of malaria.

DARPA $6.4M contract supports malaria research aimed at enhancing resilience

Researchers at Emory University, the University of Georgia, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, along with national and international collaborators, will investigate the mechanisms behind “resilience” following malaria infection. The investigators believe learning why malaria causes acute, potentially lethal disease in some humans and animals, while others are much more resilient or tolerant, could lead them to better intervention strategies for malaria and other diseases, including new and better drugs.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) are supporting the research through a $6.4 million contract. The research partnership is part of DARPA’s THoR (Technologies for Host Resilience) program and is termed the HAMMER (Host Acute Models of Malaria to study Experimental Resilience) project. Visit the Emory News Center  to learn more.