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The East African : Nov 10th 2014
The EastAfrican 36 OUTLOOK NOVEMBER 8-14,2014 S CI E N C E Foundation donates $156m towards malaria vaccines Vaccines a≥e needed that induce immunity to p≥event humans f≥om becoming infected By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent A malaria initiative has received $156 million towards creating new vaccines. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) is expected to interrupt the cycle of malaria parasite transmission by providing an “immunological bed net.” According to scientists at Path, people living in malaria regions often develop natural immunity. Although they may not exhibit symptoms of malaria following subsequent infections, they often harbour parasites and transmit them back to mosquitoes, which in turn infect other people. “To accelerate future elimination and eradication efforts, vaccines are needed that induce immunity to prevent humans from becoming infected, and to shrink the human parasite reservoir,” said Path in a statement “MVI’s two-pronged strategy is to develop vaccines that prevent people from becoming infected after being bitten by infected mosquitoes (anti-infection vaccines, or AIVs) and that prevent mosquitoes from becoming infected, even after feeding on an infected person. Vaccines that combine these two attributes will be of particular focus.” PARASITE Malaria parasites numbers are at their lowest before they multiply from tens into billions at the point in their life cycle when they are transitioning between humans and female Anopheles mosquitoes. Natural immunity does not appear to be a significant factor in targeting these stages of the life cycle, so MVI will aim to develop vaccines that induce an unnatural immunity — something that the parasite has never had to deal with before. “The new grant will help en- sure that Path can continue its effort to implement an organisationwide strategy aimed at supporting control, then elimination, and ultimately eradication of malaria,” said Steve Davis, Path’s president and CEO. “Vaccines are the key to success against malaria, and I am deeply appreciative of the Gates Foundation’s confidence in our ability to make a contribution in this area.” MVI director Ashley Birkett said malaria elimination requires new and improved tools. “Vaccines provide the best op- portunity to complement drugs and vector-control measures in reducing transmission to zero, and they are the single most important intervention for preventing reintroduction,” said Dr Birkett, adding that vaccine-induced community immunity can eliminate or significantly reduce the threat of infectious dis- eases. “The protection provided by im- munisation travels with the recipient, and it works independently of the recipient’s behaviour,” Dr Birkett said. “Malaria vaccines are not the whole answer, but they are part of the answer.” Since malaria infection is fully curable if caught early, researchers have the advantage of using a “challenge model” to evaluate potential vaccines: Healthy adult volunteers who receive a new vaccine are then exposed to drug-sensitive malaria parasites (from infected mosquitoes) under controlled laboratory conditions. Vaccines provide the best opportunity to complement drugs.” MVI director Ashley Birkett This parasite “challenge” can be used to demonstrate the efficacy of a new vaccine or drug for malaria prior to advancing it into much larger and more expensive field trials. MVI will also use monoclonal antibodies to validate, in controlled malaria challenge trials, target antigens that hold promise for preventing infection and transmission — part of a trend in malaria vaccine research and development to diversify and reinvigorate the vaccine pipeline by allocating resources to earlier stage research. Normally, researchers use a pro- totype vaccine to induce antibodies in a person and thereby evaluate new targets, which typically leads to inconclusive outcomes relative to the true potential of the target. “This approach should enable us to assess a greater number of new targets, generate more conclusive outcomes as to their true potential, and accelerate the subsequent design and development of associated vaccines,” said Dr Birkett, who notes that MVI has already initiated work on several dozen new targets. Ugandan scientists c≥eate bean st≥ains to fight anaemia By ISAAC KHISA Special Correspondent UGANDAN SCIENTISTS have developed new bean varieties that are rich in iron and zinc. The beans will help reduce anaemia in pregnant mothers, as well as improve food security. The scientists behind the research say the beans could provide an affordable alternative to meat for of most of the country’s households. Dr Michael Ugeni, the lead scientist at the Uganda’s National Crop Resources Institute, said they have developed five lines each of climbing and bush beans with higher iron and zinc micro-nutrients content than ordinary beans. “We are currently testing these lines across the country to establish their performance in terms of farmers’ preferences and colour. On completion, we will select two climber and three bush beans lines to present to the Variety Release Committee for release to farmers next year,” Dr Ugeni said. Iron is required for the production of red blood cells, and also forms part of haemoglobin (the pigment of the red blood cells), facilitates New bean varieties are rich in iron and zinc. Picture: File transportation of oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body. Zinc helps to strengthen the body’s immune system. Dr Ugeni said whereas the common bean va- rieties contain 40 to 50 milligrammes and 15 to 20 milligrammes of iron and zinc respectively per kilogramme, the new varieties contain as much as 70 milligrammes and between 30 and 35 milligrammess of iron and zinc per kilogramme. Uganda’s Ministry of Health said the beans will improve the health of locals. “This is a very good development because one strategy cannot address anaemia in the country. We are currently giving pregnant mothers tablets rich in iron to boost their immunity, but only 2 per cent complete the dose of 180 tablets,” Agnes Chandia, a nutritionist at Uganda’s Ministry of Health, said. Ms Chandia said whereas iron deficiency is thought to be the most common cause of anaemia globally, other conditions such as folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin A deficiencies, chronic inflammation, parasitic infections, poor hygiene and inherited disorders also cause anaemia in pregnant mothers and child mortality. Data from Uganda’s Ministry of Health shows that anaemia cases in the country are 23 per cent of women aged 15-45 years, and 50 per cent in children under age five, with Eastern, Northern and the West Nile being the worst hit regions. Uganda’s bean production is 929,000 metric tonnes with 80 per cent consumed locally, and the rest exported to the neighbouring countries including Kenya and South Sudan. Dry riverbeds are some of the effects of climate change. Pic: File New test to help fight tropical diseases International non-profit health organisation Path has announced a faster, easy-to-use test to help stamp out some tropical diseases. The SD BIOLINE Onchocerciasis IgG4 rapid test is expected to accelerate global progress toward eliminating onchocerciasis, a leading cause of preventable blindness in Africa. It is the first in a suite of diagnostic innovations by Path intended to support the elimination of neglected tropical diseases, a group of illnesses that affect more than a billion people worldwide. Shift work negatively affects the brain Working antisocial hours can prematurely age the brain and dull intellectual ability, scientists warn. Their study, in the journal occupational and Environmental Medicine suggested a decade of shifts aged the brain by more than six years. There was some recovery after people stopped working antisocial shifts, but it took five years to return to normal. According to the scientists, the body’s internal clock is designed for us to be active in the day and asleep at night. BRIEFS Britain building three Ebola labs in Sierra Leone Britain is building and staffing three new laboratories in Ebolastruck Sierra Leone to speed up the time taken to diagnose the disease and help stop its spread. The Department for International Development has pledged £20 million in new funding for the labs, where blood samples and swabs will be tested for the virus. The lab is expected to double the testing capacity in Sierra Leone, and the three labs are expected to quadruple the number of tests that can be carried out every day. IPCC warning on use of fossil fuels for power The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world’s electricity can — and must — be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050. If not, the world faces “severe, pervasive and irreversible” damage. The UN said inaction would cost “much more” than taking the necessary action.
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