Email Print Share

Team goes house to house to learn where new vaccine works best (Image 6)

Recording environmental information during a house visit in Malawi

A community health worker records environmental information during a house visit in Malawi. He will collect GPS data and details about the area around the house, such as vegetation types and whether there is any standing water. [Image 6 of 6 related images. Back to Image 1.]

More about this image
Cameron Taylor, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill undergraduate student, went to Lilongwe in Malawi in the summer of 2008 to help lay the groundwork for a Phase III clinical trial of the most promising malaria vaccine to date. Like most other sub-Saharan countries, Malawi is hard-hit by malaria, and the vaccine trial is gaining popularity among Malawians.

But this isn’t your standard clinical trial. Run by the Malaria Vaccine Initiative and the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, it’s a double-blind trial with 16,000 kids -- and a bunch of geographers.

Vaccine trials usually compare how many people get the disease in a vaccinated group to a group given a placebo. But medical geographer Michael Emch thinks researchers should consider more factors, such as where the participants live, whether they’re exposed to the disease, and how frequently they’re exposed. "Maybe there’s some sort of pattern to the communities where a vaccine doesn’t work well and where it works really well," says Emch. What if those patterns could be changed to make the vaccine work better?

Emch and his team have been developing new clinical-trial methods in a field called spatial epidemiology, which he hopes will lead to a better understanding of vaccine efficacy. After years of successful work on cholera vaccine trials in Bangladesh he was called to work on a huge malaria vaccine trial going on in Africa.

GlaxoSmithKline and other researchers reported encouraging Phase II clinical-trial results in 2007 for their malaria vaccine. It was given to two thousand infants and young children -- the people most vulnerable to the disease -- and it protected 53 and 65 percent of them, respectively, against malaria. This past summer, a Phase III clinical trial began at eleven African sites, one of which is the UNC site in Lilongwe.

Emch's research is supported in part by the National Science Foundation. (Date image taken: 2009; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Sept. 15, 2017)

Credit: Photo by Cameron Taylor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (5.7 MB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.