A newly developed vaccine targeting pregnancy-associated malaria has proven safe in human trials, offering hope that the often neglected health concern that kills 220,000 expectant mothers and newborns each year may soon be curbed.
A team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen has revealed in a study published in the scientific journal Clinical Infectious Diseases that the vaccine recorded no serious side effects among 36 German test subject volunteers.
"It is a great milestone for us to be able to show that our vaccine is completely safe and induces the exact antibody response in the blood we want," said study co-author professor Morten Agertoug Nielsen. “Because it is the immune response that has been shown to be connected with protection from pregnancy malaria.”
German test subjects were initially chosen because researchers needed first to examine whether the vaccine was safe among a group of people who are very unlikely to be exposed to the malaria parasite. Phase two of the trial will see the vaccine tested among women in countries with high malaria cases.
Candidate vaccine to prevent pregnancy-associated malaria found safe and induces protection.— Piet Cools (@Piet_Cools) January 12, 2019
Hopefully this will help to prevent the 200,000 infant deaths caused by these blood parasites in placentahttps://t.co/5BFXozxVu8#everynewborn#malariapic.twitter.com/Ed6xVFMuMy
"Of course, we will be doing more tests because we want to take the vaccine as far as we can. We are therefore cooperating with hospitals in Benin in Africa,” said Ali Salanti, study co-author and professor of immunology and microbiology. "The next step in the process is a phase two clinical trial, which will also show whether the vaccine can prevent disease.”
A suppressed immune system during pregnancy means expectant mothers can be up to three times as likely to contract severe malarial illness than non-pregnant women.
Maternal malaria often results in severe anemia in women, which causes heightened susceptibility to infection and increases the risk of death during delivery. For the unborn fetus, malaria parasites in the placenta increase the risk of premature delivery and low birth weight — both leading causes of child mortality.
Around 830 women die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications each day. According to the World Health Organization, more than half of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.