Caused by a parasite of the genus Plasmodium, malaria is transmitted to humans by the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito. It can also be transmitted by blood transfusion, or from mother to foetus at the end of pregnancy.
Live Plasmodium parasites in the Anopheles mosquito express GFP fluorescence protein, and are visible in green (green arrows). Mosquitoes that express only the sensitive allele of TEP1 are less resistant than those that express only the resistant allele. © Inserm/Lamacchia, Marina
Held on 25 April each year, World Malaria Day is specifically aimed at raising awareness among the general public in order to increase its involvement in controlling this disease. This event is also an opportunity to highlight the advances made in research.
In line with its year-round commitment to malaria research, the team led by Benoît Gamain, Inserm Unit 1134, “Integrated Biology of Red Blood Cell,” is currently working on the PRIMALVAC project, the objective of which is the development of a malaria vaccine for pregnant women (gestational malaria).
This phase I trial is aimed at assessing the vaccine’s safety and tolerance for human subjects, as well as its ability to induce an immune response, enabling pregnant women to be protected against gestational malaria in future.
Research done by Dominique Mazier and her staff at Inserm Unit 1135, “Centre for Immunology and Infectious Diseases,” is focused on the biology and immunochemistry of the hepatic stages of Plasmodium in humans.
A fraction of the parasites located in the liver, known as hypnozoites, may remain “dormant,” before awakening over time, and causing bloodstream infection. This hepatic phase of parasite development, which is specific to the vivax and ovale species, constitutes a double problem for the elimination of malaria: a higher number of patients to be treated, and increased transmission. Unfortunately, primaquine, and a recently developed analogue, tafenoquine, the only drugs capable of killing hypnozoites, have adverse effects that are sometimes serious for patients.
Research done by this team is helping to improve the understanding of this biological phenomenon, and to identify new strategies for an innovative, non-toxic radical cure.
The team led by Stéphanie Blandin, Inserm Unit 963 “Immune Responses in the Malaria Vector Anopheles gambiae,” is seeking to understand how mosquitoes defend themselves from parasites, and to exploit this antiparasitic response to help control transmission of the disease. For more details, consult the Inserm information pack on this theme (only available in French).
 The PRIMALVAC project is coordinated by EVI (European Vaccine Initiative), and has received financial support from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Inserm, the French National Institute of Blood Transfusion (INTS), and from Irish Aid via EVI