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Singapore team closes in on malaria vaccine

Scientists Dr Annie Gao (left) and professor Peter Preiser at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore this year
Scientists Dr Annie Gao (left) and professor Peter Presier at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore this year. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Singapore team closes in on malaria vaccine

A team at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has developed an antibody that prevents malaria parasites from entering human blood cells, rendering the deadly parasite effectively “harmless”, researchers announced on Monday.

The findings of the five-year NTU study – which were published in the journal Nature Communications – could lead to the development of the world’s first effective malaria vaccine, said professor Peter Preiser, the chair of NTU’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study.

“What we have identified is a region of the malaria parasite which it uses to attach to a healthy blood cell then pushes itself into the cell,” Preiser said in a release announcing the results of the study.

“To prevent this invasion, we developed antibodies which can interfere with this invasion process,” he continued. “So imagine the parasite has the key to unlock a door to the red blood cell, but we muck the key up, so no matter how hard the parasite tries, the door just refuses to open.”

If the process were accelerated with the help of vaccine-developing pharmaceutical companies, Preiser said, a vaccine could be produced in as little as five years.

Malaria has long been an issue in Cambodia, with nearly 57,000 cases in 2011 alone, and nearly 1,400 reported deaths between the years 2006 and 2011, according to WHO figures.

In addition to saving the lives of the roughly 860,000 who die worldwide from malaria each year, Preiser was quoted as saying in the release, a low-cost malaria vaccine could benefit the global economy by millions of dollars annually.

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