January 07, 2018

Research Roundup: Unlocking a malaria mystery, WHO prequalifies new typhoid vaccine, and the power of vitamin C

Program Assistant
PATH/Carib Nelson
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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.

Australian scientists solved a mystery about how malaria-causing parasites infect the human body, making a key discovery that could pave the way toward an effective vaccine for the disease. Researchers found that one of the malaria-causing parasites, P.vivax, infects humans by latching onto a protein that carries iron to young red blood cells. In response, researchers created antibodies designed to block this from taking place, thus halting the infection process. Future research on the antibodies’ effectiveness is needed, but researchers remain optimistic the discovery will lead to a potential vaccine candidate for P.vivax, though it could be another decade before clinical trials begin.

In December, the World Health Organization (WHO) prequalified the first infant-safe typhoid vaccine—Typbar TCV—for global use. The move comes after years of research, including a high-profile “challenge trial” involving volunteers swallowing the live virus, which found the vaccine was 87 percent effective in preventing infection. This approval by WHO allows donors, including United Nations agencies, to purchase Typbar TCV—which is now priced atUS$1.50 a dose and could drop to $1.00 if donors order more than 100 million doses—for use in low-resource countries. Global use of the vaccine should help curb the use of antibiotics for treatment, mitigating the increasing threat of antibiotic-resistant typhoid.

Vitamin C may shorten tuberculosis (TB) treatment time by killing more bacteria, according to a new study in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine accidentally discovered that antioxidants, like vitamin C, stopped TB bacteria in test tubes from becoming “persisters”—or TB bacteria that become dormant during treatment and eventually cause reinfection. To test this discovery further, researchers conducted a mice study and found promising results: The mice given vitamin C in concurrence with TB drugs had ten times fewer bacteria in their lungs than the mice not given vitamin C. While human studies are necessary to confirm effectiveness, researchers agree that coupling TB drugs with vitamin C is a safe, accessible, and inexpensive choice.