Naturally acquired immunity may improve the functionality of malaria vaccines
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have been working continuously and have moved a step ahead by experiencing a crucial differentiation between naturally acquired immunity and immunity following vaccination. The findings of the study were published in the journal ‘Nature Communications.’
“The antibodies which the body produces when you have been infected with malaria look different from those produced by the body when you have been vaccinated. And that probably means that our immune system has a more efficient response when we have been naturally infected than when we are vaccinated against malaria,” said Lars Hviid, Professor at the Department of Immunology and Microbiology.
Macrophages fight against infections with parasites, viruses, and bacteria. A strong immune system has the potential to activate various mechanisms to defend the body. “When we are exposed to an attack from the outside, the immune system can produce antibodies that attach to the foreign body that needs to be fought. They are then recognized by some small cells called macrophages, which are attracted to the antibody and eat the bacterium or virus. This is basically how immunity to most infectious diseases works,” explained Lars Hviid.
“We have found that the antibodies look different, depending on whether you have been vaccinated or infected. And that means that the body launches some other defense mechanism as, instead, it uses what we call natural killer cells,” said Lars Hviid. Natural killer cells are acclaimed by researchers as the body’s best weapons to fight cancer cells. But, now, it has been discovered that the immune system against cancer has some features in common with the defense against malaria.
“In popular terms, you could say that the immune system has a more tailored defense against malaria than against other typical infections. Maybe we have evolved in this way because it is such a contagious and deadly disease — that is difficult to guess,” said Lars Hviid. The findings were discovered by doing a comparison of blood samples of the Ghanaian people who had been infected with malaria with the people who participated in Phase 1 clinical trials of an experimental malaria vaccine.
“Our study points to a new strategy for developing even better malaria vaccines in the future. Because, now, we know how the body mobilizes the defense with natural killer cells, and we can imitate that with vaccines,” he said. Thus, the whole test is happening to check whether the future malaria vaccine will be able to make use of natural killer cells despite the macrophages that the current vaccine uses.
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