Griffith University’s fight towards a cure for one of the world’s most deadly diseases is edging closer after human clinical trials of a malaria vaccine developed by the Institute for Glycomics were a success.

Researchers have shown the world-first whole blood-stage malaria parasite vaccine PlasProtecT®, tested in collaboration with the Gold Coast University Hospital, is safe and induces an immune response in humans.

Now efforts are turning to an international fundraising campaign to enable further evaluation of the vaccine in clinical trials, before researchers can shift their focus to malaria endemic countries.

The Malaria Vaccine Project, officially launched by His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia,aims to raise $500,000 to get the research to the next stage through Rotary fundraising efforts.

Speaking at the Institute on Monday (March 27), Sir Cosgrove said the work represented Australian science and innovation at its very best.

“This is what will make a difference, a better world and save lives. It is being done in our corner of the world, for the world,” he said.

The malaria project has been years in the making for researchers Professor Michael Good and Dr Danielle Stanisic who first started clinical trials in 2013 working with medical staff at Gold Coast University Hospital.

Professor Michael Good receives PlasProtect from Dr John Gerrard at the Gold Coast University Hospital.

Professor Good has so much faith in a vaccine that could save millions of people that he was the first person to receive it. As a study participant, he had to step back from his usual research role in the “first-in-man” clinical trial.

“I wouldn’t ask people to do what I wouldn’t be prepared to do, and we couldn’t do this without the volunteers who give their time to us knowing they are helping further work towards a cure,” he said.

Gold Coast Health Director of Infectious Diseases Dr John Gerrard said ground breaking collaborative research of this type cemented the role of the Gold Coast University Hospital as a leading medical teaching and research centre in Australia.

“For the past four years eight medical specialists have provided medical oversight for the volunteers participating in the trial,” Dr Gerrard said.

Dr Stanisic said volunteers, who had to attend appointments at Griffith University’s s Clinical Trials Unit every two days for a month, were administered with the vaccine which consists of inactivated human malaria parasites that prevent them from growing and causing a malaria infection.

“Initially we showed that this vaccine was able to induce cross-species protection in pre-clinical trials,” she said.

“We’ve now taken a human version of the vaccine and tested it in volunteers and shown it is safe and induces an immune response.

Professor Michael Good and Dr Danielle Stanisic.

“This is a world first. We are the first to put a vaccine like this into humans that has potential to protect against multiple strains and species of malaria.”

There are approximately 3.2 billion people currently living in malaria endemic countries worldwide and of the 500,000 sufferers who die each year, 80 per cent are young children who are simply not strong enough to fight off the killer parasite.

Rotary past district governor Graham Jones AM said Rotary’s work with impregnated nets was helping in all kinds of endemic countries but an effective vaccine was sorely needed.

“This research could be the gateway to sustainable development of the vaccine and its use in eradicating malaria worldwide,” he said.

Steve Carroll, Rotarians Against Malaria chairman for District 9670 who lost his daughter Michelle to malaria when she was 19 years old, said they were on a crusade to make malaria the new polio for Rotary.

“She was our baby and for the first couple of years we were just devastated until we found Rotary,” he said.

“People don’t think of malaria as being much because we’re in a nice safe country but if we can get this vaccine out there, just imagine all the lives it could save.”

The next trial will test whether or not the vaccine protects people by immunising volunteers and challenging them with the malaria parasite.

To donate visit the Malaria Vaccine Project fundraising page.

For more information on how to donate to the Institute visit their website.