March 18, 2018

Research Roundup: AMR diagnostics, an oral flu vaccine, and understanding malaria

Program Assistant
David Jacobs

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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

Researchers discovered that the meal times of malaria-infected organisms may impact the rate at which the malaria parasite multiplies in the host’s blood. A team at the University of Edinburgh studied the parasitic rhythms of reproduction and invasion of red blood cells in malaria-infected mice and found that the parasites timed their daily multiplication rhythms to match when the animals were fed. When the mice’s feeding time changed, the parasites altered the timing in which they invaded red blood cells. Researchers believe that interfering with the biological processes that link eating to these parasite rhythms—through diet, drugs, or other approaches—could reduce the spread of malaria infection

A team of scientists recently created a prototype oral flu vaccine that does not need to be temperature controlled—paving the way for potential new oral vaccines that do not require refrigeration or freezing. Unlike traditional biological vaccines, which are made from part of a virus or bacteria and must be temperature controlled to remain stable, this oral vaccine prototype contains manmade peptides that mimic peptides in real viruses. Scientists found the prototype triggered a strong immune response when tested in human cell cultures and in mice. While more research is needed, these early results are promising. A heat-stable oral vaccine would be easier to transport and store, which could improve care in low-resource, hard-to-reach communities were immunization supply chains may be insufficient.

Scientists at the Jena and Friedrich Schiller University Hospital are working to develop a rapid antibiotic resistance test. Current diagnostics for drug-resistant infections can take up to 72 hours to deliver results—a long amount of time for these infections, which can be acutely life-threatening. Using light-based analytical methods combined with microfluidic sample processes—which the researchers colloquially referred to as a miniature Lab-on-a-Chip system—the scientists were able to clearly identify bacterial strains and their resistances in fewer than three hours. New rapid tests for antibiotic-resistant infections could help get patients on treatment more quickly and reduce the overprescription of antibiotics.

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