By Edzelle Peña
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, UNITED STATES — Another Filipino has given pride to the Philippines with his invention of a new vaccine against Malaria.
He is Rhoel Dinglasan, an entomologist and biologist from Johns Hopkins University Hospital. His new vaccine called Transmission Blocking Vaccine (TBV) not only protects individuals from malaria but also prevents mosquitoes carrying it from spreading.
Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium. This is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. In a human body, it quickly multiplies in the liver, and then infects red blood cells. Persons infected with this disease usually suffer from high fever, headache and vomiting. If not treated immediately, blood supply to vital organs is disrupted thus causing the death of the infected individual.
This disease is killing one child every 30 seconds in Africa. Here in the Philippines, according to a report by the Department of Health (DOH), over 26 provinces in the country are affected by the disease and people from rural or mountainous areas are found to be more at risk. Cases increase during the rainy season.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the level of drug-resistant cases of malaria is increasing in many parts of the world. This imposes a pressing need for a powerful and effective vaccine.
Dinglasan’s discovery provides a key to addressing this problem. His discovery was recently featured in the Health and Science Section of TIME magazine.
TIME reports that on January 15, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced a collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Sabin Vaccine Institute to create a whole new kind of malaria vaccine which was developed by Dinglasan.
Here are excerpts from the article.
“Traditional vaccines work by introducing a killed or weakened version of a disease into the body, where the immune system spots it and cranks out antibodies against it. Then, if a wild strain of the pathogen comes along later — one that has the power to sicken or kill — the body is ready for it. The new approach is different. Developed by Rhoel Dinglasan, an entomologist and biologist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, it would instead work within the mosquito gut.
Dinglasan has found an antigen, called AnAPN1, that causes humans to create antibodies that prevent transmission of malaria by mosquitoes. Get enough of these antibodies into mosquitoes, and you lock up the disease there and prevent it from infecting us.
Sounds good, but how do you implement such a strategy? You can hardly vaccinate the mosquitoes themselves. Instead, you put the AnAPN1 into their food source: Us. A mosquito that bites an inoculated person would pick up the antibodies and then be sidelined from the malaria-transmission game.
The new vaccine is not the first TBV attempted. Previous versions used not AnAPN1 but parts of the malaria parasite to generate human immune responses.
Unfortunately, two vaccine candidates using that approach unexpectedly caused some skin disorders when tested in humans in 2008, prompting a need for further research. And even without that side effect, using antigens from the malaria parasite would require multiple vaccines to fight the many different strains of malaria.”
Dr. Lee Hall, chief of the Parasitology and International Programs branch of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has a positive view on the project. Quoting the same article he says, “I think it’s very encouraging.” He adds, “It’s a big endorsement by MVI for this general approach.”
In a blog by model and TV host Daphne Oseña Paez, she quotes Robbie Dinglasan’s (Rhoel’s older brother) post on Facebook expressing his delight at his brother’s new achievement. Robbie is the director of Daphne’s Olay TV commercial.
It reads: “This is me the older brother gushing with pride over my younger brother’s incredible accomplishment. His work on a new Malaria Vaccine was picked up by Time Magazine! Hopefully it will be picked up by other press and media and soon his work will finally be able to help millions of children who still die from Malaria today!”
Rhoel’s discovery might just be the answer to saving millions of lives from being infected by this deadly disease. Let’s all hope for the success of the project and be proud of our kababayan.
Rhoel Dinglasan is currently working as an assistant professor in Johns Hopkins University. He has a PhD from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and MPhil and MPH at Yale University. He is a member of the Malaria Research Institute and has done a number of research projects. Among these are “Biodegradable Microparticles for Oral Delivery of a Malaria Transmission-Blocking Vaccine” and “Feasibility Program (Phase I) Malaria Transmission-Blocking Vaccine.”
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