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Scientist who helped design it reflects on 30 years of research, and what it promises. Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford and Chief Investigator for the R21 vaccine, tells Nadine Dreyer why he thinks this is a great era for malaria control.

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Until three years ago nobody had developed a vaccine against any parasitic disease. Now there are two against malaria: the RTS,S and the R21 vaccines.

What makes malaria such a difficult disease to beat?

Malaria has been around for 30 million years. Human beings have not. Our hominoid predecessors were being infected by malaria parasites tens of millions of years ago, so these parasites had a lot of practice at clever tricks to escape immune systems long before we came along. Homo sapiens first evolved in Africa about 315,000 years ago.

Malaria is not a virus and nor is it a bacterium. It’s a protozoan parasite, thousands of times larger than a typical virus. A good comparison is how many genes it has. COVID-19 has about a dozen, malaria has about 5,000.

Additionally, the malaria parasite goes through four life cycle stages. This is as complex as it gets with infectious pathogens. Medical researchers have been trying to make malaria vaccines for over 100 years. In Oxford it’s taken us 30 years of research.


Read the full interview on The Conversation website conducted by Nadine Dreyer to  Prof Adrian Hill  Director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford.

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