USA — Army Researchers Continue Fight Against Malaria

WASHINGTON — Researchers at the Wal­ter Reed Army Insti­tute of Research here are dis­cov­er­ing new ways to com­bat and pre­vent the spread of malar­ia.

“Every con­flict the U.S. has been in we’ve been faced with malar­ia,” said Army Col. Chris­t­ian Ock­en­house, direc­tor of the U.S. Mil­i­tary Malar­ia Vac­cine Pro­gram, dur­ing an April 14 inter­view on the Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel pod­cast “Armed with Sci­ence: Research and Appli­ca­tions for the Mod­ern Military. 

Malar­ia is a par­a­sitic dis­ease which infects red blood cells, Ock­en­house said. It’s trans­mit­ted through the bite of a female mos­qui­to, goes to the liv­er to devel­op and emerges after five days into the blood­stream to cause the disease. 

Most peo­ple believe malar­ia is a dis­ease of the past, but it has not dis­ap­peared, he said. In sub-Saha­ran Africa, 3,000 chil­dren die every day from the dis­ease, he not­ed, which also can tar­get adults, includ­ing U.S. troops serv­ing in Afghanistan, South Amer­i­ca and Africa. 

In the mil­i­tary, malar­ia impacts readi­ness and mis­sions, and mea­sures are imple­ment­ed to com­bat the dis­ease, Ock­en­house said. Using insect repel­lant and cam­ou­flage face paint with repel­lent in it, wear­ing uni­forms impreg­nat­ed with insec­ti­cides and employ­ing bed nets can help to pre­vent malaria. 

One of the impor­tant mea­sures to pre­vent the dis­ease is tak­ing anti-malar­ia pills. This pill regime is one of the most effec­tive pre­ven­ta­tive meth­ods, Ock­en­house said, but it has to be per­formed dai­ly. “Often time sol­diers for­get or don’t take it if they don’t see any symp­toms,” he said. 

The researchers are work­ing with the U.S. Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion in three areas to pro­tect ser­vice­mem­bers and chil­dren against malar­ia. First, they are devel­op­ing a high­ly safe, high­ly effec­tive vac­cine. A sec­ond area is to devel­op bet­ter diag­nos­tics, which would allow ear­li­er detec­tion and treat­ment of the malar­ia par­a­site in the blood. Third, they are devel­op­ing new anti-malar­i­al drugs to pre­vent infec­tion and treat those that have it. 

The researchers also are devel­op­ing a med­ica­tion for severe malar­ia. Ock­en­house spoke of an in-house pro­gram designed not only for ear­ly-stage research and devel­op­ment, but also to test new drugs against malar­ia in late-stage clin­i­cal tri­als intend­ed for FDA approval. 

The group also works over­seas with lab­o­ra­to­ries locat­ed in Kenya, Thai­land, Tan­za­nia, Mali, South Amer­i­ca and Peru. 

“We are ambas­sadors in the coun­tries where we work. We are there to lend assis­tance to their pub­lic health ini­tia­tives, which includes help­ing these coun­tries test malar­ia vac­cines, drugs and diag­nos­tics and aid­ing in infra­struc­ture and capac­i­ty development.” 

The researchers also have assist­ed in the devel­op­ment of the world’s most advanced malar­ia vac­cine that is being test­ed in 16,000 infants in 11 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Pre­lim­i­nary stud­ies indi­cate that use of the vac­cine can reduce malar­ia by 50 per­cent. When licensed and made avail­able the vac­cine could save hun­dreds of thou­sands, if not mil­lions, of children’s lives, Ock­en­house said. 

“We are at the fore­front of many endeav­ors in drugs and vac­cines,” Ock­en­house said. “The DoD should be par­tic­u­lar­ly proud that it is step­ping up to the plate and lead­ing the world’s efforts on this disease.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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