September 17, 2017

Research Roundup: Technology to save mothers, an all-inclusive vaccine, and malaria's relationship with carbohydrates

Program Assistant
PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

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

Researchers at MIT are working to create an all-inclusive vaccine for infants that can protect against diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, meningitis A, B, and C, and more. The researchers have designed a promising micro-particle that could combine all of these vaccines into one single shot. The shot has not yet been tested on humans, though results were promising in a trial on mice. If this micro-particle proves effective and safe in human trials, this all-inclusive vaccine will be useful for infants in developing countries—as reducing the  number of vaccines necessary for infants in low-resource settings means fewer clinic visits.

Mobile technology has the potential to help save the lives of newborns and their mothers in Tanzania. Researchers and phone developers are hoping to reduce rates of maternal mortality by launching a new service called “Text to Treatment” that uses toll-free texting to provide women with information that facilitates access to treatment centers. For instance, this service allows users to send money for travel to free clinics. Similarly, the “Mobilising Maternal Health” program also aims to provide better access to health care services by connecting women to transportation services, such as ambulance taxis and other travel to free clinics. Both of these programs have saved lives, with a 40 percent increase in female patients visiting treatment centers due to the “Text to Treatment” service and 30 percent reduction in maternal deaths due to the “Mobilising Maternal Health” program. These services have the potential to help bridge the rural-urban divide that impacts access to timely, high-quality health care for new mothers.

Researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada have discovered the malaria parasite uses tagged carbohydrates to avoid detection and continue the spread of the disease in humans—especially in the liver. The researchers believe if treatments can be improved to account for the tagged carbohydrates, then these solutions may weaken the parasite to the point where it cannot survive within the host. They also believe these findings may help improve malaria vaccine design. Malaria remains one of the leading killers in the developing world, with about 650,000 annual deaths due to the disease.