Professor Gordon Awandare delivers Inter-College Lecture

Professor Gordon Awandare

Professor Gordon Awandare, Head of the Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, School of Biological Sciences, and the Director of the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), University of Ghana has delivered a lecture on the platform of the Inter-College lecture Series.  He spoke 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 of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, Professor Daniel K. Asiedu, while the Dean of the School of Biological Sciences, Professor Matilda Steiner-Asiedu, gave the opening remarks.

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. He attributed the inability of the disease to be totally hibernated, to the challenges of drug resistance and the absence of an effective vaccine. This gap, he suggested, ushered in the need for him and his “all-star team” to investigate further towards identifying more efficacious malaria vaccines which is the optimum solution.

Enumerating the findings of his research, Prof. Awandare stated that the research was a hospital-based study which targeted children between the ages of 2 and 14 years who had sought treatment at hospitals in three ecological zones – Kintampo, Navrongo and Accra. He indicated 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 microlitre of the blood of an infected person (Kintampo- over 150,000; Navrongo-46,000; and Accra-38,000).

He indicated that those in Kintampo faced frequent exposure to the malaria parasite, and therefore their immune tolerance was higher, compared to those in Accra who displayed clinical symptoms of malaria (fever especially) quicker and worse than those in Kintampo and Navrongo. In general, he said, those in 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.

Prof. Awandare 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.

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). Any parasites that escaped this stage and invaded the Red Blood Cells (blood-stage) and multiplied, he said, could still cause 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 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 role and mandate of WACCBIP.   He then called on the University of Ghana to leverage its credibility to attract more funding to help improve upon science education.

Provost of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, Professor Daniel K. Asiedu.

At the end of the lecture, time was allowed for questions and comments which brought about an active engagement between the audience and the lecturer.

A section of the audience at the lecture