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04 Jan 2021

Eradicating malaria in the Asia-Pacific

Researchers are attacking the problem of malaria in the Asia Pacific region using a multipronged research approach.

Ridding the Asia-Pacific region of malaria by 2030 is an ambitious target, but is, nonetheless, the Holy Grail for the $2.5 million National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)- funded Australian Centre of Research Excellence in Malaria Elimination (ACREME), awarded in October 2017.

Each year, more than 200 million people become ill with malaria, and nearly half a million people, mostly children under five, die from the disease.

Based at the Doherty Institute and led by University of Melbourne Professor Stephen Rogerson, a world-leader in the pathogenesis of malaria in pregnant women and young children, ACREME brings together existing research groups across Australia and in Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and Indonesia, amongst other countries.

It aims to accelerate the development of better tools to monitor, detect, prevent, and treat malaria to improve health and economic outcomes for regional neighbours.

ACREME is also focussed on promoting collaborative research across the network and, to date, has issued 12 seed grants to postdoctoral and PhD investigators.

“It’s important to bring together different groups that might otherwise work in isolation from each other to allow for the cross-fertilisation of ideas,” says Professor Rogerson.

As an example of how multidisciplinary research can speed up early drug evaluation and get drugs into clinical trials more quickly, researchers in Brisbane are giving volunteers malaria infection in hospital to test new malaria drugs or vaccines.

Blood samples from the volunteers are then used to examine malaria immunity, while statisticians develop models of how the volunteers metabolise the drug.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The clinical aspect of this work in Brisbane is led by Professor James McCarthy who will be moving to the Doherty Institute in April 2020 to become the inaugural Professor/Director of The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Victorian Infectious Diseases Service.

Professor Rogerson says some of ACREME’s research will have positive impacts on communities at risk of malaria.

“The thing I’m most excited about personally is the idea of developing new antibody-based surveillance tools, which will allow us to identify the communities where malaria transmission is ongoing, even if we’re not seeing the cases,” enthuses Professor Rogerson.

“The other area we can make a big difference is in the treatment of vivax malaria, especially getting more people access to drugs that can eliminate the infection from the liver.”

This article was first published in the Celebrating Five Years of the Doherty Institute Impact Report.

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