Johns Hopkins’ Study Identifies Malaria Parasite at Beginning Stages; Research May Be Key in Discovering a Vaccine
In a June issue of PLOS ONE, researchers from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University (JHSPH) released the results of a study describing advancements in the detection and isolation of the parasites that cause malaria in mammals, Plasmodium, during the liver stages. TRL’s own Executive Director, Matt Sherman, was listed as a contributing author on the paper, after providing key technical support for the study.
“It was an honor collaborating with an institution as prominent as Johns Hopkins. Dr. Jelena Levitskaya’s research is a crucial step towards understanding the mechanism of malaria infection and designing a cure. TRL’s primary goal is to improve the human condition. If we can contribute in any way to developing a cure for a disease that affects so many worldwide, we’re going to do it.”
Malaria continues to be a major health problem throughout the world. According to the World Health Organization, in 2012 about 207 million new cases of malaria were reported and 627,000 subsequent deaths, primarily in Sub-Saharan African countries. There are five known human malaria parasites, Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale, Plasmodium malariae, and Plasmodium knowlesi, the most fatal and the focus of the JHSPH study being Plasmodium falciparum.
The initial stage of Plasmodium infection begins in the liver, but is difficult to detect and study due to limitations of in vitro research. The liver stage is the most targeted for the advancement of protective vaccines, yet it is the least characterized stage of the infection.
Using TRL hepatocytes and media, the JHSPH research team was able to develop a unique method for the detection and isolation of P. falciparum exoerythrocytic forms (EEFs) through flow cytometry—a method of cell suspension and counting. The live P. falciparum infected hepatocytes were identified and quantified in a rapid screening during the study.
The new approach can be used to quantify the effects of antibodies, cytokines, or drugs on parasite invasion and development in vitro. This groundbreaking research may be the insight needed to find a preventative vaccine for malaria.