register interest

Prof Kevin Marsh

Research Area: Global Health
Scientific Themes: Tropical Medicine & Global Health
Keywords: malaria, immunology and epidemiology
Web Links:

Professor Kevin Marsh has a broad research interest in child health in the tropics, with a particular focus in the immune epidemiology of malaria. From 1989 to 2014 he directed the KEMRI Wellcome Programme in Kenya. Kevin's research interests  focus on three main areas:

  • Identifying the protective immune response to malaria
  • Regulation of immune responses
  • Determinants of virulence

Kevin has a particular interest is in the development of  science in Africa. He is currently seconded for 50% of his time as senior adviser to the African Academy of Sciences. Kevin is chair of the WHO Malaria policy advisory committee (MPAC) and  a member of many global health advisory groups.

Name Department Institution Country
Prof Chris I Newbold (RDM) Investigative Medicine Division University of Oxford United Kingdom
Prof Adrian VS Hill Jenner Institute University of Oxford United Kingdom
Prof David Roberts (RDM) Nuffield Division of Clinical Laboratory Sciences University of Oxford United Kingdom
David Conway MRC Laboratories Gambia
S Polley London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine United Kingdom
Paul Milligan London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine United Kingdom
Tony Holder National Institute of Medical Research Mill Hill United Kingdom
Jean Langhorne National Institute of Medical Research Mill Hill United Kingdom
Dr Alex Rowe Centers for Disease Control United States
James Beeson Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Melbourne Australia
Anna Farnert Karolinska Institute Stockholm Sweden
Ibrahim Ei Hassan Institute of Endemic Diseases Khartoum Sudan
Gilbert Kokwaro University of Nairobi Kenya

Osier FH, Mackinnon MJ, Crosnier C, Fegan G, Kamuyu G, Wanaguru M, Ogada E, McDade B, Rayner JC, Wright GJ, Marsh K. 2014. New antigens for a multicomponent blood-stage malaria vaccine. Sci Transl Med, 6 (247), pp. 247ra102. Read abstract | Read more

An effective blood-stage vaccine against Plasmodium falciparum remains a research priority, but the number of antigens that have been translated into multicomponent vaccines for testing in clinical trials remains limited. Investigating the large number of potential targets found in the parasite proteome has been constrained by an inability to produce natively folded recombinant antigens for immunological studies. We overcame these constraints by generating a large library of biochemically active merozoite surface and secreted full-length ectodomain proteins. We then systematically examined the antibody reactivity against these proteins in a cohort of Kenyan children (n = 286) who were sampled at the start of a malaria transmission season and prospectively monitored for clinical episodes of malaria over the ensuing 6 months. We found that antibodies to previously untested or little-studied proteins had superior or equivalent potential protective efficacy to the handful of current leading malaria vaccine candidates. Moreover, cumulative responses to combinations comprising 5 of the 10 top-ranked antigens, including PF3D7_1136200, MSP2, RhopH3, P41, MSP11, MSP3, PF3D7_0606800, AMA1, Pf113, and MSRP1, were associated with 100% protection against clinical episodes of malaria. These data suggest not only that there are many more potential antigen candidates for the malaria vaccine development pipeline but also that effective vaccination may be achieved by combining a selection of these antigens. Hide abstract

Ndungu FM, Olotu A, Mwacharo J, Nyonda M, Apfeld J, Mramba LK, Fegan GW, Bejon P, Marsh K. 2012. Memory B cells are a more reliable archive for historical antimalarial responses than plasma antibodies in no-longer exposed children. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 109 (21), pp. 8247-8252. Read abstract | Read more

Humans respond to foreign antigen by generating plasma Abs and memory B cells (MBCs). The Ab response then declines, sometimes to below the limit of detection. In contrast, MBCs are generally thought to be long-lived. We tested and compared Plasmodium falciparum (Pf)-specific Ab and MBC responses in two populations of children: (i) previously exposed children who had documented Pf infections several years ago, but minimal exposure since then; and (ii) persistently exposed children living in a separate but nearby endemic area. We found that although Pf-specific plasma Abs were lower in previously exposed children compared with persistently exposed children, their cognate MBCs were maintained at similar frequencies. We conclude that serological analysis by itself would greatly underestimate the true memory of Pf-specific Ab responses in previously exposed children living in areas where Pf transmission has been reduced or eliminated. Hide abstract

Scott JA, Berkley JA, Mwangi I, Ochola L, Uyoga S, Macharia A, Ndila C, Lowe BS et al. 2011. Relation between falciparum malaria and bacteraemia in Kenyan children: a population-based, case-control study and a longitudinal study. Lancet, 378 (9799), pp. 1316-1323. Read abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Many investigators have suggested that malaria infection predisposes individuals to bacteraemia. We tested this hypothesis with mendelian randomisation studies of children with the malaria-protective phenotype of sickle-cell trait (HbAS). METHODS: This study was done in a defined area around Kilifi District Hospital, Kilifi, Kenya. We did a matched case-control study to identify risk factors for invasive bacterial disease, in which cases were children aged 3 months to 13 years who were admitted to hospital with bacteraemia between Sept 16, 1999, and July 31, 2002. We aimed to match two controls, by age, sex, location, and time of recruitment, for every case. We then did a longitudinal case-control study to assess the relation between HbAS and invasive bacterial disease as malaria incidence decreased. Cases were children aged 0-13 years who were admitted to hospital with bacteraemia between Jan 1, 1999, and Dec 31, 2007. Controls were born in the study area between Jan 1, 2006, and June 23, 2009. Finally, we modelled the annual incidence of bacteraemia against the community prevalence of malaria during 9 years with Poisson regression. RESULTS: In the matched case-control study, we recruited 292 cases-we recruited two controls for 236, and one for the remaining 56. Sickle-cell disease, HIV, leucocyte haemozoin pigment, and undernutrition were positively associated with bacteraemia and HbAS was strongly negatively associated with bacteraemia (odds ratio 0·36; 95% CI 0·20-0·65). In the longitudinal case-control study, we assessed data from 1454 cases and 10,749 controls. During the study period, the incidence of admission to hospital with malaria per 1000 child-years decreased from 28·5 to 3·45, with a reduction in protection afforded by HbAS against bacteraemia occurring in parallel (p=0·0008). The incidence of hospital admissions for bacteraemia per 1000 child-years also decreased from 2·59 to 1·45. The bacteraemia incidence rate ratio associated with malaria parasitaemia was 6·69 (95% CI 1·31-34·3) and, at a community parasite prevalence of 29% in 1999, 62% (8·2-91) of bacteraemia cases were attributable to malaria. INTERPRETATION: Malaria infection strongly predisposes individuals to bacteraemia and can account for more than half of all cases of bacteraemia in malaria-endemic areas. Interventions to control malaria will have a major additional benefit by reducing the burden of invasive bacterial disease. FUNDING: Wellcome Trust. Hide abstract

Mackinnon MJ, Marsh K. 2010. The selection landscape of malaria parasites. Science, 328 (5980), pp. 866-871. Read abstract | Read more

Malaria parasites have to survive and transmit within a highly selective and ever-changing host environment. Because immunity to malaria is nonsterilizing and builds up slowly through repeated infections, commonly the parasite invades a host that is immunologically and physiologically different from its previous host. During the course of infection, the parasite must also keep pace with changes in host immune responses and red-blood-cell physiology. Here, we describe the "selection landscape" of the most virulent of the human malaria parasites, Plasmodium falciparum, and the adaptive mechanisms it uses to navigate through that landscape. Taking a cost-benefit view of parasite fitness, we consider the evolutionary outcomes of the most important forces of selection operating on the parasite, namely immunity, host death, drugs, mosquito availability, and coinfection. Given the huge potential for malaria parasite evolution in the context of the recently renewed effort to eradicate malaria, a deeper understanding of P. falciparum adaptation is essential. Hide abstract

O'Meara WP, Bejon P, Mwangi TW, Okiro EA, Peshu N, Snow RW, Newton CR, Marsh K. 2008. Effect of a fall in malaria transmission on morbidity and mortality in Kilifi, Kenya. Lancet, 372 (9649), pp. 1555-1562. Read abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: As efforts to control malaria are expanded across the world, understanding the role of transmission intensity in determining the burden of clinical malaria is crucial to the prediction and measurement of the effectiveness of interventions to reduce transmission. Furthermore, studies comparing several endemic sites led to speculation that as transmission decreases morbidity and mortality caused by severe malaria might increase. We aimed to assess the epidemiological characteristics of malaria in Kilifi, Kenya, during a period of decreasing transmission intensity. METHODS: We analyse 18 years (1990-2007) of surveillance data from a paediatric ward in a malaria-endemic region of Kenya. The hospital has a catchment area of 250 000 people. Clinical data and blood-film results for more than 61 000 admissions are reported. FINDINGS: Hospital admissions for malaria decreased from 18.43 per 1000 children in 2003 to 3.42 in 2007. Over 18 years of surveillance, the incidence of cerebral malaria initially increased; however, malaria mortality decreased overall because of a decrease in incidence of severe malarial anaemia since 1997 (4.75 to 0.37 per 1000 children) and improved survival among children admitted with non-severe malaria. Parasite prevalence, the mean age of children admitted with malaria, and the proportion of children with cerebral malaria began to change 10 years before hospitalisation for malaria started to fall. INTERPRETATION: Sustained reduction in exposure to infection leads to changes in mean age and presentation of disease similar to those described in multisite studies. Changes in transmission might not lead to immediate reductions in incidence of clinical disease. However, longitudinal data do not indicate that reductions in transmission intensity lead to transient increases in morbidity and mortality. Hide abstract

Bull PC, Pain A, Ndungu FM, Kinyanjui SM, Roberts DJ, Newbold CI, Marsh K. 2005. Plasmodium falciparum antigenic variation: relationships between in vivo selection, acquired antibody response, and disease severity. J Infect Dis, 192 (6), pp. 1119-1126. Read abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Variant surface antigens (VSA) on Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes are potentially important targets of immunity to malaria. We previously identified a VSA phenotype--VSA with a high frequency of antibody recognition (VSA(FoRH))--that is associated with young host age and severe malaria. We hypothesized that VSA(FoRH) are positively selected by host molecules such as intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM1) and CD36 and dominate in the absence of an effective immune response. Here, we assessed, in 115 Kenyan children, the potential role played by in vivo selection pressures in either favoring or selecting against VSA(FoRH) among parasites that cause malaria. METHODS: We tested for associations between VSA(FoRH) and (1) the repertoire of VSA antibodies carried by children at the time of acute malaria and (2) polymorphisms in ICAM1 (K29M) and CD36 (T188G) that could potentially reduce the positive selection of VSA(FoRH). RESULTS: An expected negative association between VSA antibody repertoire and VSA(FoRH) was observed in children with nonsevere malaria. However, this association did not extend to children with severe malaria, many of whom apparently had well-developed VSA antibody responses despite being infected by parasites expressing VSA(FoRH). There was no evidence for involvement of CD36 or ICAM1 in positive selection of VSA(FoRH). On the contrary, a weak positive association between carriage of the CD36 (T188G) allele and VSA(FoRH) was observed in children with severe malaria. CONCLUSION: The association between the VSA(FoRH) parasite phenotype and severe malaria cannot be explained simply in terms of the total repertoire of VSA antibodies carried at the time of acute disease. Hide abstract

Molyneux CS, Wassenaar DR, Peshu N, Marsh K. 2005. 'Even if they ask you to stand by a tree all day, you will have to do it (laughter)...!': community voices on the notion and practice of informed consent for biomedical research in developing countries. Soc Sci Med, 61 (2), pp. 443-454. Read abstract | Read more

Ethical dilemmas in biomedical research, especially in vulnerable populations, often spark heated debate. Despite recommendations and guidelines, many issues remain controversial, including the relevance, prioritisation and application of individual voluntary informed consent in non-Western settings. The voices of the people likely to be the subjects of research have been notably absent from the debate. We held discussions with groups of community members living in the rural study area of a large research unit in Kenya. Discussions were facilitated by three research study vignettes outlining one field-based and two hospital-based studies being planned or taking place at the time. In addition to gathering general views about the aims and activities of the research unit, questions focused on whether consent should be sought for studies, and if so from whom (chiefs, elders, men/women, children), and on ascertaining whether there are any special concerns about the physical act of signing consent forms. The findings revealed the community's difficulty in distinguishing research from clinical investigations conducted in clinical settings. There was a spectrum of views regarding perceived appropriateness of consent procedures, in part because of difficulty in disentangling clinical from research aims, and because of other challenges to applying consent in practice. Debates between community members highlight the inadequacy of simplistic assumptions about community members' views on informed consent, and the complexity of incorporating lay opinions into biomedical research. Failure to appreciate these issues risks exaggerating differences between settings, and underestimating the time and resources required to ensure meaningful community involvement in research processes. Ultimately, it risks inadequately responding to the needs and values of those on whom the success of most biomedical research depends. Although compliance with community views does not necessarily make the research more ethical, it is argued that community opinions on local issues and practices should inform ethical decision-making in health research. Hide abstract

Mwangi TW, Ross A, Snow RW, Marsh K. 2005. Case definitions of clinical malaria under different transmission conditions in Kilifi District, Kenya. J Infect Dis, 191 (11), pp. 1932-1939. Read abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Clear case definitions of malaria are an essential means of evaluating the effectiveness of present and proposed interventions in malaria. The clinical signs of malaria are nonspecific, and parasitemia accompanied by a fever may not be sufficient to define an episode of clinical malaria in endemic areas. We defined and quantified cases of malaria in people of different age groups from 2 areas with different rates of transmission of malaria. METHODS: A total of 1602 people were followed up weekly for 2 years, and all the cases of fever accompanied by parasitemia were identified. Logistic regression methods were used to derive case definitions of malaria. RESULTS: Two case definitions of malaria were derived: 1 for children 1-14 years old and 1 for infants (<1 year old) and older children and adults (> or =15 years old). We also found a higher number of episodes of clinical malaria per person per year in people from an area of low transmission of malaria, compared with the number of episodes in those from an area of higher transmission (0.84 vs. 0.55 episodes/person/year; incidence rate ratio, 0.66 [95% confidence interval, 0.61-0.72]; P<.001). CONCLUSIONS: Case definitions of malaria are bound to be altered by factors that affect immunity, such as age and transmission. Case definitions may, however, be affected by other immunity-altering factors, such as HIV and vaccination status, and this needs to be borne in mind during vaccine trials. Hide abstract

Dorfman JR, Bejon P, Ndungu FM, Langhorne J, Kortok MM, Lowe BS, Mwangi TW, Williams TN, Marsh K. 2005. B cell memory to 3 Plasmodium falciparum blood-stage antigens in a malaria-endemic area. J Infect Dis, 191 (10), pp. 1623-1630. Read abstract | Read more

To gain insight into why antibody responses to malarial antigens tend to be short lived, we studied antigen-specific memory B cells from donors in an area where malaria is endemic. We compared antibody and memory B cell responses to tetanus toxoid with those to 3 Plasmodium falciparum candidate vaccine antigens: the C-terminal portion of merozoite surface protein 1 (MSP1(19)), apical membrane antigen 1 (AMA1), and the cysteine-rich interdomain region 1 alpha (CIDR1 alpha ) of a protein from the P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) family. These data are the first to be generated on memory B cells in children who are in the process of acquiring antimalarial immunity, and they reveal defects in B cell memory to P. falciparum antigens. Compared with the results for tetanus toxoid, more donors who were positive for antibody to AMA1 and CIDR1 alpha were negative for memory B cells. These data imply that some exposures to malaria do not result in the establishment of stable populations of circulating antigen-specific memory B cells, suggesting possible mechanisms for the short-lived nature of many anti-malarial antibody responses. Hide abstract

Williams TN, Mwangi TW, Roberts DJ, Alexander ND, Weatherall DJ, Wambua S, Kortok M, Snow RW, Marsh K. 2005. An immune basis for malaria protection by the sickle cell trait. PLoS Med, 2 (5), pp. e128. Read abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Malaria resistance by the sickle cell trait (genotype HbAS) has served as the prime example of genetic selection for over half a century. Nevertheless, the mechanism of this resistance remains the subject of considerable debate. While it probably involves innate factors such as the reduced ability of Plasmodium falciparum parasites to grow and multiply in HbAS erythrocytes, recent observations suggest that it might also involve the accelerated acquisition of malaria-specific immunity. METHODS AND FINDINGS: We studied the age-specific protection afforded by HbAS against clinical malaria in children living on the coast of Kenya. We found that protection increased with age from only 20% in the first 2 y of life to a maximum of 56% by the age of 10 y, returning thereafter to 30% in participants greater than 10 y old. CONCLUSIONS: Our observations suggest that malaria protection by HbAS involves the enhancement of not only innate but also of acquired immunity to the parasite. A better understanding of the underlying mechanisms might yield important insights into both these processes. Hide abstract

Snow RW, Marsh K. 2002. The consequences of reducing transmission of Plasmodium falciparum in Africa. Adv Parasitol, 52 pp. 235-264. Read abstract | Read more

Malaria transmission intensity in Africa varies over several log orders, from less than one infected bite per year to more than one thousand. In this review we examine the consequences in terms of age pattern, clinical spectrum and overall burden of disease and discuss the possible implications for interventions that reduce exposure to infected bites. With very low transmission intensity, all age groups are susceptible to severe malaria. With increasing transmission intensities, older children and adults suffer less severe disease and with high transmission rates the majority of severe cases occur in infants under one year of age. This pattern reflects the increasingly rapid acquisition of immune responses that limit the life-threatening effects of malaria with increasing exposure to the parasite. The clinical spectrum of severe malaria varies with transmission: with high transmission, severe malarial anaemia dominates and cerebral malaria is rare. As one moves towards lower transmission rates, cerebral malaria accounts for an increasingly large proportion of cases. Although the population risk of severe disease falls with age, the risk of death at an individual level may rise with age after an initial fall from very high case fatality rates in children aged under 6 months. Of central interest to malaria control is how the overall amount of disease in childhood varies with transmission. Data from a number of sources suggest that, with low transmission, the amount of malarial disease rises with increasing exposure but that this saturates relatively early. A key issue is whether the same pattern obtains for deaths, both those directly due to malaria and those from all causes. The methodological limitations of ecological comparisons between different areas are discussed before presenting a review of attempts to use this approach in Africa. This suggests that children living in areas of low malarial endemicity have all-cause mortality rates about half of those of children living in areas of moderate to high transmission. Deaths in the first year of life rise linearly with increasing exposure to malaria over a wide range of transmission intensities; by contrast all-cause mortality in children aged 0-4 years appears to saturate at relatively low transmission intensities. These data suggest that interventions that reduce exposure to malaria parasites, such as insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs), will have the greatest chance of a sustained effect when used in areas where disease burdens are high but the frequency of parasite exposure is low-to-moderate. In conditions of high transmission, initial reductions in mortality may prove difficult to sustain as the reduced level of transmission may still lie on the part of the curve where mortality has saturated. However, at all levels of transmission the overall balance of benefits, including reduced load on families and health services from non-life-threatening malaria, favours the widespread introduction of ITNs in endemic areas of Africa. Hide abstract

Marsh K, Forster D, Waruiru C, Mwangi I, Winstanley M, Marsh V, Newton C, Winstanley P, Warn P, Peshu N. 1995. Indicators of life-threatening malaria in African children. N Engl J Med, 332 (21), pp. 1399-1404. Read abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: About 90 percent of the deaths from malaria are in African children, but criteria to guide the recognition and management of severe malaria have not been validated in them. METHODS: We conducted a prospective study of all children admitted to the pediatric ward of a Kenyan district hospital with a primary diagnosis of malaria. We calculated the frequency and mortality rate for each of the clinical and laboratory criteria in the current World Health Organization (WHO) definition of severe malaria, and then used logistic-regression analysis to identify the variables with the greatest prognostic value. RESULTS: We studied 1844 children (mean age, 26.4 months) with a primary diagnosis of malaria. Not included were 18 children who died on arrival and 4 who died of other causes. The mortality rate was 3.5 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 2.7 to 4.3 percent), and 84 percent of the deaths occurred within 24 hours of admission. Logistic-regression analysis identified four key prognostic indicators: impaired consciousness (relative risk, 3.3; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.6 to 7.0), respiratory distress (relative risk, 3.9; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.0 to 7.7), hypoglycemia (relative risk, 3.3; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.6 to 6.7), and jaundice (relative risk, 2.6; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.1 to 6.3). Of the 64 children who died, 54 were among those with impaired consciousness (n = 336; case fatality rate, 11.9 percent) or respiratory distress (n = 251; case fatality rate, 13.9 percent), or both. Hence, this simple bedside index identified 84.4 percent of the fatal cases, as compared with the 79.7 percent identified by the current WHO criteria. CONCLUSIONS: In African children with malaria, the presence of impaired consciousness or respiratory distress can identify those at high risk for death. Hide abstract

Marsh K, Howard RJ. 1986. Antigens induced on erythrocytes by P. falciparum: expression of diverse and conserved determinants. Science, 231 (4734), pp. 150-153. Read abstract | Read more

Red blood cells that are infected with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum express new antigens on their surface. In a study of these antigens in the erythrocytes of naturally infected children in the Gambia, an antibody-mediated agglutination assay revealed an extreme degree of antigenic diversity. Serum samples from each of ten children in the convalescent stage of malaria infection reacted with infected cells from the same child but generally not with infected cells from the other children. The Gambian children's erythrocytes also expressed shared determinants: sera from Gambian adults often reacted with the surface of infected cells from all of the children and were shown by adsorption and elution experiments to contain antibodies that recognized several isolates. Conserved determinants exposed on infected erythrocytes may be important for development of antimalarial immunity either naturally or through vaccination. Hide abstract


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