Healthcare: On the Agenda - Breakthrough for malaria vaccine

In a nutshell

Researchers studying malaria say they have discovered an 'achilles heel' in the way the deadly plasmodium parasite invades the human body. Experts believe the breakthrough could lead to a vaccine against the disease.

Why is it important?

Malaria kills about a million people every year, mostly children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. There is currently no licensed vaccine available.

The findings

Researchers have discovered how the most deadly species of malaria parasite, plasmodium falciparum, invades red blood cells. Using a technique developed at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, they found that the parasite relies on a single receptor on a cell's surface. Dr Gavin Wright, senior co-author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: 'Our research seems to have revealed an achilles heel in the way the parasite invades.'

PR strategy

The media and public relations team at the Wellcome Trust Sanger handled PR. The challenge was to ensure that the hope raised by the news was balanced against the fact that we are still a long way from beating malaria.

Media coverage

The story was picked up extensively by the UK and international media. In the UK, highlights included coverage on the front page of The Independent (plus a spread inside), ITV evening news bulletin, Radio 4's Today programme and BBC Online.

1m - Approximate number of deaths from malaria every year*

30 - The number of seconds between child deaths from malaria in Africa*.

* Source: World Health Organisation.

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