The research interests of the group centre on the immunobiology of the human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. We examine the development of antibody responses to the malaria parasite in naturally exposed individuals, including the associations between specific responses and protection against clinical malaria episodes. The main thrust of our research at present is on the development of vaccines, based on recombinant surface proteins derived from genes expressed by the merozoite stage of the parasite life cycle. We are presently examining the functional activity of these antibodies in parasite growth inhibition assays in vitro. In addition, and as a spin-off from this work, recombinant P. falciparum antigens developed in the laboratory are used in malaria diagnostic kits by national blood transfusion services in the UK and abroad.
We have identified a novel target for malaria vaccine development, namely the N-terminal region of merozoite surface protein 1 (MSP-1). Earlier work in lab has shown that this region of MSP-1 is the target of naturally acquired antibodies, which are associated with protection from clinical malaria symptoms in susceptible African children. In vivo protection against experimental virulent malaria infection, by immunisation with a recombinant protein from the N-terminal region of MSP-1, has also been demonstrated in the Aotus lemurinus model. Future plans include the development of vaccine constructs based on this immunogenic region of MSP-1 in several vaccine delivery systems, including hybrid measles-malaria virus vaccines and more conventional protein-based systems.
We currently collaborate with Cilian AG, Muenster, Germany, on the use of Tetrahymena thermophila as an expression host for malaria vaccine antigens. In addition, we are working with ETNA Biotech, part of Zydus Cadilla, on the use of measles virus as a vector to malaria vaccine delivery.