Research Roundup: A promising malaria vaccine, a virulent new form of HIV, climate change, and more
In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.
Newsweek took an in-depth look at the work of Sanaria, a small biotechnology organization striving to develop a vaccine to effectively eradicate malaria. Naturally-acquired immunity is common in malaria-endemic regions, however, it takes an estimated three years for children to develop even partial immunity. The team at Sanaria has produced a vaccine that is considered the safest and most effective vaccine to date, preventing malaria in 100 percent of participants in initial trials. The vaccine defends against Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for nearly all fatal cases of malaria. Despite the success of initial trials and accolades such as the 2014 Vaccine Industry Excellence Award for “Best Prophylactic Vaccine,” Sanaria struggles to get adequate coverage or funding to continue, let alone escalate, the development of the vaccine.
A virulent new form of HIV has been reported in Cuba, leading to an accelerated transition from HIV to AIDS. The HIV virus must attach itself to certain 'receptors,' or proteins on the cell membrane, before entering the human cell. The virus has historically attached itself first to the protein CCR5, and after several years it develops the ability to attach to the CXCR4 protein, a development which often correlates to the transition to AIDS. The aggressive new strand is recombinant, a variant of the virus resulting from a combination of multiple strands of HIV. Researchers at the Ku Leuven’s Laboratory for Clinical and Epidemiological Virology have seen particularly high levels of both the virus and the RANTES molecule in patients. The RANTES molecule, a natural part of the human immune response, combats HIV by attaching to the CCR5 proteins, which prevents the virus’s ability to enter the cells, resulting in the virus adapting to attach to the CXCR4 proteins. Patients with the new, recombinant strand may develop AIDS within just three years of infection, before many are even diagnosed with HIV.
Mother Jones examined the impact of climate change on the spread of infectious diseases, and the role that vaccines can play in mitigating that impact. Climate change, and in particular, extreme climate events, can not only weaken existing health systems, but higher temperatures and levels of rainfall are actually correlated to increased cases of certain diseases, such as rotavirus. As Alistair Woodward, an epidemiologist at the University of Auckland explained, “ensuring that people are vaccinated is a logical thing to do as part of managing the risks of a rapidly changing climate.”