Public Release: 

OU professor developing vaccine to protect global communities from malaria

University of Oklahoma

A University of Oklahoma professor studying malaria mosquito interaction has discovered a new mosquito protein for the development of a new vaccine that is expected to stop the spread of the disease in areas where it is considered endemic. Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, and it infects millions of people in Africa, Asia and South America every year, causing a global health crisis. In addition to the local populations, U.S. military personnel stationed in these areas and travelers to these malaria-prone areas are at risk of becoming infected.

Jun Li, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, OU College of Arts of Sciences, will travel to Kenya this July to test the newly-developed vaccine in the field. Since mosquitoes are essential for malaria transmission, Li and his colleagues from the OU Norman campus, the OU Health Sciences Center and John Hopkins University have found that an antibody used against a key mosquito protein inhibited malaria parasite invasion in mosquitoes. The antibody blocks the malaria parasite from the protein, which is needed for the parasite to invade mosquitoes.

"Vaccination with this mosquito protein would stop the spread of malaria in communities where it is most needed," says Li. "The vaccine should protect an entire community by keeping mosquitoes from transmitting the disease, and it has the potential to dramatically reduce the number of malaria cases around the world."

According to the World Health Organization, there were about 198 million cases of malaria in 2013 and an estimated 584,000 deaths. Most deaths occur among children living in Africa, where a child dies every minute from malaria. Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of malaria. In 2014, 97 countries and territories had ongoing malaria transmission.

A technical paper on this research will be published in the July 3, 2015, issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Volume 290, Number 27. The OU malaria research was supported by the National Institutes of Health with grant amounts of $788,887; and by the National Science Foundation with a grant amount of $783,432; and by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology with grant amounts of $135,000.

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For more information about Jun Li's malaria research, please email him at junli@ou.edu or visit his website at chem.ou.edu/jun-li.

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