Scientists reach milestone in developing malaria vaccine
'We think of a malaria vaccine as a way to not only control malaria, but hopefully one day eradicate malaria'
Scientists at Saskatoon's Canadian Light Source have uncovered thousands of protein structures that could help fight diseases like malaria through the development of vaccines.
The scientists discovered these proteins using something called a beamline — a bright light used to magnify matter into larger-than-life images that can be examined in a very detailed way.
Jean-Philippe Julien and his team have been using the beamline at the national synchrotron light source facility in their research into developing a malarial vaccine. Julien is the Canada Research Chair in structural immunology and a scientist at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute.
He says that the beamline provides the scientists with a type of "blueprint."
"In order to get high-resolution blueprints, with a very high level of detail, we need a source of energy that is very powerful. A beamline is a place where we can expose our samples to very high energy light in order to get the high resolution blueprints," said Julien.
Julien said an effective malaria vaccine does not yet exist. There are malaria prophylaxis, but there's problems associated with them. For example, there have been dangerous mental health side effects associated with the antimalarial drug, mefloquine.
Julien said the blueprints tell the scientists what is working, and what is not working when developing vaccines.
"Sometimes the vaccine is good and can make the right type of immune response, and we want to know what that is," said Julien.
"If the vaccine is not effective, it creates a type of immune response that is not protective. So we want to know what those types of responses look like as well, so we can avoid them and have the blueprints move away from those types of vaccines."
From this, Julien said they can design new vaccine candidates in their efforts to create a vaccine for malaria. Julien said the beamline is essential to developing an effective malaria vaccine.
"We think of a malaria vaccine as a way to not only control malaria, but hopefully one day eradicate malaria, which is the ultimate goal, as vaccines have done for other pathogens."
With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend