By Chris Adams

For the researchers and physicians at the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health at the University of Maryland, their work is not just about science – but also about doing what’s right.

“We really see vaccines as an issue of equity,” said Dr. Kathleen Neuzil, director of the center, which is part of the university’s School of Medicine. “This is something everybody can have equal access to. We want to take cost as a factor out of the equation.”

In sessions and a tour with National Press Foundation fellows, Neuzil and her researchers described their vaccine development methods and the steps they take to get those vaccines to patients worldwide. On the development front, that includes studies in which volunteers are exposed to malaria-carrying mosquitoes with the expectation they will get malaria (they are quickly given medication to cure it). That process of challenge-and-infect is helping researchers develop a vaccine against the disease, which in 2017 killed more than 400,000 people globally.

As for the “challenge day” in which the infecting happens, Dr. Matthew Laurens described how they tightly control the setting to make sure infected mosquitos don’t escape – and what they do to increase their chances of success.

“We starve them a bit before the challenge so they’re hungry,” he said.

If they’re successful, the implications could be huge. “If we have a malaria vaccine, it will be the No. 1 public health achievement in your lifetime,” said Dr. James Campbell, a professor of pediatrics at the school.

The center is not in the business of manufacturing and marketing vaccines, so when it gets to that stage it seeks to partner with companies in the U.S. or worldwide to actually make the product.