Malaria is still a major problem in Africa. There are over 200 million clinical cases each year and approximately half a million deaths.
There are different ways in which malaria can be controlled. Preventive measures include use of insecticides in bed nets or indoor spraying programmes. Medicines can also be used to prevent or treat malaria, but resistance often develops and drugs lose their effectiveness.
The World Health Organisation reported that progress in controlling malaria has stalled.
As an immunologist, I dream that one day we will have an effective vaccine that will help eliminate malaria. I think this is possible because for over a century, we have known that humans do become immune to malaria. In places where there is lots of malaria adults donâ€™t succumb to the disease, but their young children do.
In experiments conducted over 50 years ago, researchers showed that blood could be taken from adults who had become immune and used to treat children admitted to hospital with malaria.
Antibodies in the blood were responsible for this effect; in other words, antibodies could treat malaria. Researchers have been trying to isolate the exact antibodies that do this. The challenge is that our bodies make millions of antibodies, so pulling out those with the antimalarial activity has been difficult.
One way to identify these â€œgoodâ€ antibodies is to compare the blood samples of people who get malaria with those who donâ€™t with the aim of identifying the differences. This type of research has been going on for about 30 years, but the results have been inconclusive.
Part of the reason is that in almost every study, the investigators do things differently.
Itâ€™s like cooking your favourite dish. You may have a particular recipe but if you check in with friends and ask how they prepare the very same dish, you will find that each of them does something slightly differently. In the same way, differences in the way scientists have conducted their experiments have contributed to a lack of clarity in the results.
Weâ€™ve embarked on a project that breaks this cycle.