The research group led by Miguel Soares at Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC; Portugal) was selected by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help finding a vaccine against malaria.The project will be developed in collaboration with Henrique Silveira, from IHMT, and the Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI).
For the next two years, the research team will be awarded 400 000 USD to assess if a specific sugar molecule expressed by Plasmodium, the causative agent of malaria, should be included as part of a novel malaria vaccine. This is the second time that Miguel Soares and his team are recognized by the Gates Foundation.
Henrique Silveira was also awarded a Grand Challenges Explorations Grant by the same Foundation, in 2015, to create an artificial blood meal to mosquitoes that allows mosquito oogenesis and reproduction without the need of blood.
More than 200 million people suffered from malaria worldwide, last year alone. The Gates Foundation sets a clear goal: “a world free of malaria”. To achieve this, the foundation runs highly competitive initiatives where scientists propose bold and pioneering ways to find a vaccine against malaria. Less than two years ago, Miguel Soares team discovered that a specific sugar molecule – the α-gal glycan – expressed by bacterial components in the human gut microbiota can trigger a natural defense mechanism that is highly protective against malaria transmission. This research work was then published in the prestigious scientific journal Cell. Now, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invited Miguel Soares to use these discoveries to help developing a vaccine against malaria.
At IHMT, research will be conducted by the insectary team, Catarina Alves e Joana Gomes, under Henrique Silveira’s coordination.