Scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine are helping the quest for a malaria vaccine in the laboratory as well as through clinical trials.
Recently published research in PLoS Genetics marks a major step in efforts to identify promising targets of immunity by providing the first comprehensive view of where immune selection appears to be acting in the malaria parasite genome.
Based on analysis of an endemic population in West Africa, the study identifies previously unstudied proteins as potential vaccine candidates.
Explaining the findings, Professor David Conway, senior author of the paper, said:
“Identifying the best malaria vaccine candidate from scratch is difficult, as the parasites have more than 5,000 different proteins, but this genome-wide population study allows us to zoom in on the ones most likely to be important immune targets.
“This is one of many new applications of evolutionary and population genetic analysis of pathogens – understanding how natural selection is working so that we can better design new vaccines.
“The results support the idea that a highly successful malaria vaccine would probably need to contain several different antigenic components in its formulation.
“The results help us to filter all the information from the parasite genome and focus on particular molecules that show potential as future vaccine candidates.”
- Amambua-Ngwa et al, Population genomic scan for candidate signatures of balancing selection to guide antigen characterization in malaria parasites. PLoS Genetics, November 2012.