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Scientists May Soon Find if a Malaria Vaccine Protects Malian Children From the Disease

Malaria drugs and vaccines will help African children live healthier lives.
Malaria drugs and vaccines will help African children live healthier lives.
Credit: WHO/TDR/Stammers

During his career, Christopher V. Plowe, M.D., M.P.H, has developed and validated molecular markers used to monitor resistance of the malaria parasite to the two most important malaria drugs of the 20th century, chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine. Using this information, he and his colleagues have created strategies to extend the useful life of those drugs. The rapid molecular tests he developed to document drug resistance are in use worldwide.

He is continuing his work at Center for Vaccine Development, University of Maryland School of Medicine and in laboratories in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, Dr. Plowe co-lead a clinical trial in Mali that found that a candidate malaria vaccine was safe and elicited strong immune responses in the 40 Malian adults who received it. The NIAID trial was the first to test this vaccine, designed to block malaria parasites from entering human blood cells, in a malaria-endemic country. Based on these promising results, the research team is now conducting trials of this vaccine in 400 Malian children aged 1 to 6 years. The scientists will soon learn if the vaccine was protective in the children.

Across the continent in Malawi, Dr. Plowe discovered that the molecular marker for chloroquine resistance became progressively less frequent following the cessation of chloroquine 1993. An NIAID-supported clinical trial showed a return of chloroquine efficacy to 99 percent, 12 years after failure rates were at 50 percent and higher. Today Dr. Plowe, with colleagues at the University of Malawi College of Medicine, is testing chloroquine in combination with other antimalarial drugs in an effort to find ways to make drug combinations that are "resistant to resistance."

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Last Updated June 17, 2009