The second and last Inter-College Lecture of CBAS for the second semester of the 2016/2017 academic year was delivered by Professor Gordon Awandare, Head, Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, School of Biological Sciences, and Director of the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), University of Ghana. The lecture was on the topic “Assessing the impact of decreasing malaria transmission on parasite biology, disease pathogenesis and vaccine discovery”.
The programme was chaired by the Provost, Professor Daniel K. Asiedu, while the Dean of the School of Biological Sciences, Professor Matilda Steiner-Asiedu, gave the opening remarks.
Professor Daniel K. Asiedu, (Provost,CBAS)
In his presentation, Professor Awandare acknowledged that, worldwide, the burden of malaria had reduced due to concerted efforts through various malaria control methods such as the use of more effective Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) and the phenomenon of development. He noted that, notwithstanding the successes chalked towards the reduction of the burden of malaria, the fact still remains that in 2016, over 212 million cases of malaria infections were recorded worldwide and over 400,000 deaths were resultantly recorded, and this leaves more to be desired in the fight against the disease.
Prof. Gordon Awandare
He attributed the inability for the disease to be totally hibernated to the challenges of drug resistance and the absence of an effective vaccine. This gap, he suggested, was the motivation for him and his “world-class team” to investigate further towards identifying a more efficacious malaria vaccines which is the optimum solution.
Enumerating the findings of his research, Prof. Awandare began by stating that the research was a hospital-based study which targeted children between the ages of 2 and 14 years who had come to the hospital for treatment in three ecological zones – Kintampo, Navrongo and Accra. He made known that, of the three areas, Kintampo had the highest cumulative number of infectious mosquito bites per year (250) per person, followed by Navrongo (100-250) and Accra (less than 50). This indicated that transmission intensity was least in Accra and highest in Kintampo. Again, this translated into Kintampo leading once again with regard to the number of malaria parasites found in a microliter of the blood of an infected person (Kintampo- over 150,000; Navrongo-46,000; and Accra-38,000).
He intimated that because those in Kintampo faced frequent exposure to the malaria parasite, their immune tolerance was higher, hence, those in Accra displayed clinical symptoms of malaria (fever especially) quicker and worse than those in Kintampo and Navrongo. But generally, Accra experienced uncomplicated malaria, unlike in the other areas where malaria was severe. His findings ultimately suggested a shift in the vulnerable age group from children below 5 years to children below 6 years.
He added that, decreasing malaria transmission resulted in decreasing parasite tolerance which meant that one needed fewer parasites to be safe than before because there was more aggressive inflammatory response, i.e, more aggressive fever, and makes one sick sooner than before.
A section of the audience at the lecture
Regarding the identification of an effective malaria vaccine, Prof. Awandare noted that previous studies failed because the target of those studies were mainly to stop the malaria parasite at the liver-stage (where parasites stayed in the liver and multiplied). So any parasites that escaped this stage and invaded the Red Blood Cells (blood-stage) and multiplied, could still caused malaria. Therefore, it was the resolve of his team to identify the combination of proteins that would destroy the invasion pathway of parasites so that they would not be able to attack the Red Blood Cells (RBC).
He concluded the lecture on the research findings by stating that, through florescent microscopy and computational analyses conducted by his team on samples and a collaborative work being done with Wet Lab, a potent malaria vaccine was near in sight.
Professor Awandare took the opportunity to inform the audience of the activities and mandate of WACCBIP. He then called on the University of Ghana to leverage its credibility to rake in more funds and investments to help propel science education.
He, however, bemoaned the slow and protracted system of procurement which persist in the University. He indicated that this state of affairs waned the ability of the University to be competitive in the area of science since procured reagents and equipment took a long time to arrive. He therefore called on the management of the University to step up and probably create a separate procurement system for the procurement of scientific equipment.
The audience participated actively by asking very thought-provoking questions which received satisfying answers from Prof. Gordon Awandare.
The Chairman, in his closing remarks, thanked Prof. Gordon Awandare for his insightful lecture.