Exploiting the immunological cross-reactivity between Plasmodium species for vaccine development
The goal of this project is to develop a vaccine candidate based on the cross-reactive epitope mediated by PvDBP and VAR2CSA that can elicit an antibody response to protect pregnant women against malaria in pregnancy. Given the highly conserved nature of the conformational epitope, we hope that this novel cross-reactive approach to vaccine development will offer an alternative strategy for malaria vaccinology.
Pregnant women are at a disproportionate risk for severe malaria infections because the malaria parasite binds to placental chondroitin sulphate A (CSA). P. falciparum binds to CSA using a protein called VAR2CSA expressed on the surface of infected red blood cells. Malaria infection in pregnancy can cause pre-term birth, low birth weight babies, maternal anaemia and infant and maternal mortality. However, following multiple exposures to malaria in pregnant women develop protective antibodies that recognize VAR2CSA and block parasite binding to the placenta. Our lab has identified a protein called PvDBP from P. vivax, another species of malaria that can elicit antibodies that recognize VAR2CSA.