Research Roundup: Kenya 3rd country to roll out malaria vaccine, scientists gene-edit stem cells to treat HIV, and an affordable new test for dengue
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On Friday, Kenya became the third African country—following Malawi and Ghana— to introduce the world’s only licensed malaria vaccine. Health authorities are administering the vaccine to young children in rural areas where transmission rates are high. The aim is to reach approximately 360,000 children per year across the three countries in which the vaccine is being rolled out. Although the vaccine only protects about one-third of children who are immunized, those who are vaccinated are likely to have less severe cases of malaria. The vaccine—developed by GlaxoSmithKline, PATH, and partners—is the first and only vaccine to significantly reduce malaria in children, according to the World Health Organization. Malaria kills approximately 435,000 people every year, the majority of whom are children under five years of age in Africa.
For the first time, researchers have used CRISPR gene-editing technology to try to treat a person infected with HIV. Scientists in China used CRISPR to engineer human stem cells to mimic a rare form of natural immunity against the HIV virus and transplanted them into a man with HIV and blood cancer. Though many of the cells survived in the man’s body for more than a year without causing detectable side effects, the number of cells was not high enough to significantly reduce the amount of HIV in his blood. While this research was a mixed success, scientists say it serves as proof of concept that CRISPR can be used to edit human stem cells that can be implanted safely in a patient.
Researchers at the University of Alberta have developed a user-friendly, affordable, one-step test to diagnose dengue—a mosquito-borne disease that infects nearly 400 million people per year and causes flu-like symptoms. Unlike many traditional diagnostic tests for dengue which, in order to produce a precise diagnosis, require expensive equipment, multiple steps, and advanced training to operate, this test only requires a small blood or plasma sample and a portable tester that produces results in about two hours. As this new dengue test requires cold chemicals, the researchers are now exploring the use of vacuum-drying to create a powder that could withstand the heat in tropical climates where dengue is endemic. Additional research is required for field trials.