Many of the global health successes in the past century can be attributed to the use of vaccines in the global community. While there are many regions of the world still plagued with preventable diseases, scientists are busy trying to create even more vaccines. There have been ideas tossed around for HIV and malaria vaccines, but now scientists are trying to create a vaccine for malnutrition.

As one of the most widespread ailments, nearly one-third of the global population is estimated to have some degree of malnutrition. Among the most afflicted are women and children. In many poor areas, hookworm infection is one of the primary causes of malnutrition. The hookworm take nutrients from the infected patients and, if left untreated, can result in severe malnutrition, stunted development, and hemorrhaging.

There is a strong correlation between poverty and hookworm infection, and the hope is that a vaccine could help alleviate some of the malnutrition causes. The effects of creating a successful vaccine are projected to impact the economy of the region as well. Since malnutrition and the subsequent health problems associated with it limit productivity and stunt the employable population, the vaccine hopes to expand economic and social potential.

One of the hindrances in developing the vaccine, though, is the limited applicability perceived by major pharmaceutical companies. Because the vaccine would be used primarily in many poor, underdeveloped nations, pharmaceutical companies are deterred by the low economic profit opportunities. As the vaccine is being developed, the funding of nonprofit organizations is pushing it through research and development stages.

One of the major supporters of this vaccine is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The difference between the current method of treatment and the proposed passive vaccine is the longer lasting effects. One treatment of the vaccine lasts significantly longer and would cost less in the long term.

While the reality of the vaccine is a while out, the prospect provides a new generation of hope in the medical community for curbing malnutrition.

– Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Times of India, Huffington Post
Photo: Science Line

The World's First Hookworm Vaccine
One-third of children and women living below the World Bank’s poverty line are infected with hookworm today, which often causes moderate to severe anemia. Hookworm and other Neglected Tropical Diseases, or NTDs, disproportionately affect the poorer Islamic countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mali, Nigeria and others in North Africa and the Middle East.

Children and pregnant women are by far the most drastically affected by this disease. Children with long-standing blood loss from hookworm often experience sufficient mental and motor development delays. They can actually lose IQ points as well. These detrimental effects undoubtedly follow them into adulthood, making productivity more difficult.

The blood loss caused by hookworm may affect women in labor, making their chance of death much higher. Additionally, the baby is more likely to be born prematurely or with low birth weight. This makes those babies less likely to survive, contributing to the child mortality rate.

Additionally, the link between hookworms and anemia is a large concern because of its relation to disabilities. Anemia accounted for 8.8 percent of the total disability of the world in 2010. Today, children under 5 years old and women of all ages still hold the heaviest burden.

Fortunately, the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Product Development Partnership is developing the world’s first hookworm vaccine for human use. The Sabin Institute was established in 2000 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is the only Product Development Partnership in the world working to develop a vaccine for human hookworm infections.

The institute is receiving support from the European Commission FP7 program and uniting professionals from around the world to build research. This global consortium has been coined HOOKVAC and includes members from the Netherlands, the United States, Belgium, England, Germany and Gabon. This project aims not only to perfect the manufacturing process of the vaccine, but also to increase and share research on NTDs.

The first clinical testing of the vaccine will take place in Sub-Saharan Africa once it is ready. Gabon’s Lamberene Research Centre will lead clinical testing in adults and children in Gabon, a region plagued with hookworm.

The vaccine is being called the “anti-poverty” vaccine due to its vast potential to lower child mortality rates, save mothers in labor and improve health conditions for agricultural workers, who are the backbone of many poorer economies.

The vaccine, as of now, is intended only for use in the poorest regions of the world, where hookworm thrives. This means that the product will likely not be sold commercially by pharmaceutical companies, but will remain in the nonprofit sector with HOOKVAC.

The project will hopefully conduct trials in the coming years and bring health relief to millions, while contributing to the united fight against global poverty.

– Cambria Arvizo

Sources: Huffington Post, Sabin Vaccine Institute, American Society of Hematology
Photo: The Guardian

A new hookworm vaccine is the hope of millions of infected people in Africa. Although it is experimental and will be the first African clinical trial for this parasite, it is already scheduled for 2014 because hookworm infestations are rampant among the African poor. Over 102 trial participants, ages 18 to 45 will be given the vaccine over a four month period and be rechecked after a year. Once the adult participants remain safe and have positive immune responses, children will be given the vaccines. These trials will begin in Gabon, Africa.

Hookworms are easily transmitted to children who walk around barefoot. Most children who also suffer from malnutrition are attacked by the parasite and become extremely weak, which leads to learning problems and stunted growth. These parasites drain the blood of any individual and eventually cause anemia. Hookworms also infest adults and cause financial strains on the family as men and women gradually weaken from loss of blood. Even pregnant women are not free from danger since their fetus is also affected from the blood loss. These worms enter the body through the feet. Once they are inside the bloodstream they travel towards the lungs. From the lungs they reach the intestines where they grip the interior walls with their two sets of teeth. Here they are able to remain attached, suck any quantity of blood and grow to half an inch long.The aim of the hookworm vaccine is to create antibodies which will slowly kill the worms. As the antibodies are formed, it will work against two enzymes present in the hookworm’s gut. One enzyme processes iron in its blood diet and the other enzyme allows for digestion of blood proteins. As the antibodies fight against these enzymes, the hookworm’s energy source weakens and will eventually die.

Clinical trials are set for a minimum of five years regardless of whether there is   success with treatments. This vaccine could potentially be the answer to hookworm elimination which is the leading cause of iron deficient anemia among millions of the world’s poor.  Dr. Hotez, the director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute has been working on this vaccine for over 30 years. His effort and commitment over this lapse of time will surely be a victory to be seen.

–  Maybelline Martez

Sources: NIH, Medical News Today, New York Times