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Designer malaria vaccines


Hands-on at the exhibit

  • Play a game to try to detect the unchanging elements in a shape-shifting parasite
  • Use interactive maps to see the impact of vaccines on global health
  • Explore 3D models of RH5 binding to basigin and antibodies

Find out more

How structural biology is raising hopes for a vaccine against this killer parasite.

Malaria is one of the deadliest human diseases, killing a child in Africa every few minutes. A vaccine is urgently needed, but the parasite is a master at evading attempts to combat it. Now there’s been a breakthrough, and at this exhibit you’ll learn about the science that could help us fight back. 

The malaria parasite is a shape-shifter, changing its surface coat to escape destruction by the human body. This has made vaccine development extremely challenging. The parasite must get inside human red blood cells to allow it to replicate and develop. This depends upon a malaria protein called RH5 binding to a human protein called basigin on the surface of red blood cells. Unlike the other variable malaria surface proteins, RH5 does not vary, making it more easily recognised and destroyed. A team at the University of Oxford immunised human volunteers with RH5. Antibodies isolated from these volunteers prevent the parasite from invading red blood cells. Using structural biology to reveal how these antibodies interacted with RH5, they designed new molecules that could be used in the world’s first highly effective malaria vaccines. 

Presented by the Wellcome Trust.