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Sarah Silk

Clinical Trial Immunologist

Whilst living in Uganda, I saw the impact of malaria first hand and was able to take part in mosquito net deliveries to the surrounding villages. To qualify for a net, a bed was required and these were usually occupied by the elders of the families. It is in fact the very young children who are most at risk of malaria and therefore who have the highest need for these nets. This has always stuck with me, sparking my interest in malaria research and a drive to make a translational impact. Studying Pharmacology at Newcastle University, I also developed an interest in clinical trials and am very pleased to have the opportunity to work across both of these areas in my career.

My research focuses on set up, conduct and analysis of the immune response of blood-stage malaria vaccine candidates in clinical trials. These include first-in-human safety trials through to efficacy assessment in the UK and in a number of field sites across Africa. I work very closely with our partners to capacity build, conducting laboratory set up, training and technology transfer of our main immunological assays to these settings.

Controlled human malaria infection (CHMI) studies are a critical tool for down selection of vaccines. These involve direct injection of malaria infected red blood cells to participants, treatment at a defined threshold following very close follow up and assessment of vaccine impact on development of infection. We routinely utilise the blood-stage CHMI model here in Oxford, and I recently established this in a malaria endemic setting, Tanzania, for the first time.

Through characterisation of the humoral and cellular immune responses in these studies we aim to understand the key factors driving a functional and long-lived immune response in order to guide vaccine development and optimisation.