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Vol. LXV, No. 18
August 30, 2013

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Investigational Malaria Vaccine Found Safe, Protective

This Anopheles gambiae mosquito is obtaining a blood meal as it feeds on a human host.

This Anopheles gambiae mosquito is obtaining a blood meal as it feeds on a human host.

Photo: CDC/Jim Gathany

An investigational malaria vaccine has been found to be safe, to generate an immune system response and to offer protection against malaria infection in healthy adults, according to the results of an early stage clinical trial published Aug. 8 in the journal Science.

The vaccine, known as PfSPZ vaccine, was developed by scientists at Sanaria Inc., of Rockville, Md. The clinical evaluation was conducted by researchers at NIAID, the Army and the Navy.

Malaria is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. After the bite occurs, infectious malaria parasites in the immature, sporozoite stage of their life-cycle first travel to the liver, where they multiply, and then spread through the bloodstream, at which time symptoms develop.

The PfSPZ vaccine is composed of live but weakened sporozoites of the species Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly of the malaria-causing parasites.

“The global burden of malaria is extraordinary and unacceptable,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “Scientists and health care providers have made significant gains in characterizing, treating and preventing malaria; however, a vaccine has remained an elusive goal. We are encouraged by this important step forward.”

New Data Reveal Extent of Genetic Overlap Between Major Mental Disorders

The largest genome-wide study of its kind has determined how much 5 major mental illnesses are traceable to the same common inherited genetic variations. Researchers funded in part by NIH found that the overlap was highest between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; moderate for bipolar disorder and depression and for ADHD and depression; and low between schizophrenia and autism. Overall, common genetic variation accounted for 17-28 percent of risk for the illnesses.

“Since our study only looked at common gene variants, the total genetic overlap between the disorders is likely higher,” explained Dr. Naomi Wray of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, who co-led the multi-site study by the cross disorders group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, which is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. “Shared variants with smaller effects, rare variants, mutations, duplications, deletions and gene-environment interactions also contribute to these illnesses.”

Members of the PGC group reported on their findings Aug. 11 in the journal Nature Genetics.

“Such evidence quantifying shared genetic risk factors among traditional psychiatric diagnoses will help us move toward classification that will be more faithful to nature,” said Dr. Bruce Cuthbert, coordinator of NIMH’s Research Domain Criteria project, which is developing a mental disorders classification system for research based more on underlying causes.

NIH-Funded Study Discovers New Genes for Childhood Epilepsies

A genetic study of childhood epilepsies has linked two new genes to severe forms of disease and provides a novel strategy for identifying therapy targets. The study used a cutting-edge genetic technique, called exome sequencing, to search for new mutations that are not inherited. The results suggest this may be a highly effective way to find and confirm many disease-causing gene mutations.

“It appears that the time for using this approach to understand complex neurological disorders has arrived,” said Dr. David Goldstein, director of the Center for Human Genome Variation at Duke University Medical Center and a leader of the study. “This moderately sized study identified an unusually large number of disease-causing mutations and provides a wealth of new information for the epilepsy research community to explore.”

The study is part of a worldwide $25 million project, largely funded by NIH, that uses the latest genetic techniques to sequence and analyze DNA from 4,000 epilepsy patients and their relatives. The study, published in Nature, found as many as 25 epilepsy-causing mutations in new and previously identified genes.

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