Thrasher Award to support malaria vaccine research

Image: Thrasher Research Fund Early Career Award winner, Dr Liriye Kurtovic

Burnet Institute Postdoctoral Research Officer Dr Liriye Kurtovic has won a prestigious Thrasher Research Fund Early Career Award to support her research into the development of a world-first effective malaria vaccine.

The Thrasher Research Fund supports investigators with recently completed PhDs to focus on issues that impact children’s health, via grants of up to USD$25,000.

Dr Kurtovic’s project – Validating immune correlates of protection in children to advance malaria vaccines – will build on past Burnet work by using novel approaches to evaluate immunity in paediatric clinical trials of the RTS,S malaria vaccine.

While RTS,S is the leading malaria vaccine, its protective efficacy is modest (~30-50%) and rapidly wanes after vaccination.

The development of an efficacious vaccine would significantly reduce disease burden, but this has been challenging because the immune mechanisms that confer protection against malaria are poorly understood.

“Our proposed research will shed light on the immunological basis of how the RTS,S vaccine works and why efficacy is only modest, informing the development of new strategies to enhance vaccine immunogenicity, efficacy and longevity in children,” Dr Kurtovic said.

“Our novel approaches could be rapidly adapted into other laboratories to evaluate novel vaccines and predict vaccine efficacy, overall advancing the development of highly efficacious malaria vaccines to improve children’s health.”

This work is being conducted in collaboration with ISGlobal (University of Barcelona) and malaria vaccine trial partners in several African countries.

Malaria is one of the greatest contributors to childhood mortality and was responsible for 272,000 deaths in children under five years in 2018 alone.

The World Health Organization has identified immune correlates of protection as a priority research area needed to advance vaccine development.

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