Prof. François H. Nosten
Professor of Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford
Director of Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, part of the Mahidol-Oxford
University Research Unit (MORU)
Prof. Nosten set up the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) in 1986 and has been its director since then. SMRU is a large structure employing over 400 Thai and Karen personnel and 22 expatriates. The main research activity of SMRU is focussed on the epidemiology, the prevention and the treatment of malaria. High risk groups (children and pregnant women) have been the focus of attention from the start, in order to define the best strategy of prevention and treatment of malaria. Over 55,000 pregnant women have registered to the ANC since 1986, and over 3000 babies were prospectively assessed for their physical and neurological developments. The results of this malaria research program have changed the modern therapeutics of malaria. The now widely accepted best treatment based on antimalarials combinations with an artemisinin derivative (ACT) was pioneered at SMRU.
Prof. Nosten was awarded the Chalmers Medal by the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 2002, the Prix Christophe and RodolpheMerieux in 2008 and the TWAS Regional Price for Science Diplomacy in 2014. He was made fellow ad eundem of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and Honorary International Fellow of ASTMH in 2013.
Prof. Nosten 's particular interests include the epidemiology, pathophysiology and treatment of malaria and other communicable diseases as well as maternal and child health and the interface between research and humanitarian assistance.


  • Quantifying Low Birth Weight, Preterm Birth and Small-for-gestational-age Effects of Malaria in Pregnancy: A Population Cohort Study

    Rijken, Marcus J., De Livera, Alysha M., Lee, Sue J., Boel, Machteld E., Rungwilailaekhiri, Suthatsana, Wiladphaingern, Jacher, Paw, Moo Kho, Pimanpanarak, Mupawjay, Pukrittayakamee, Sasithon, Simpson, Julie A., Nosten, François and McGreadPLoS ONE, 2014, 9(7): e100247

    The association between malaria during pregnancy and low birth weight (LBW) is well described. This manuscript aims to quantify the relative contribution of malaria to small-for-gestational-age (SGA) infants and preterm birth (PTB) in pregnancies accurately dated by ultrasound on the Thai-Myanmar border at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit.


    From 2001 to 2010 in a population cohort of prospectively followed pregnancies, we analyzed all singleton newborns who were live born, normal, weighed in the first hour of life and with a gestational age (GA) between 28+0 and 41+6 weeks. Fractional polynomial regression was used to determine the mean birth weight and standard deviation as functions of GA. Risk differences and factors of LBW and SGA were studied across the range of GA for malaria and non-malaria pregnancies. From 10,264 newborns records, population centiles were created. Women were screened for malaria by microscopy a median of 22 [range 1–38] times and it was detected and treated in 12.6% (1,292) of pregnancies. Malaria was associated with LBW, PTB, and SGA compared to those without malaria. Nearly two-thirds of PTB were classified as LBW (68% (539/789)), most of which 83% (447/539) were not SGA. After GA 39 weeks, 5% (298/5,966) of non-LBW births were identified as SGA. Low body mass index, primigravida, hypertension, smoking and female sex of the newborn were also significantly and independently associated with LBW and SGA consistent with previous publications.


    Treated malaria in pregnancy was associated with an increased risk for LBW, PTB, and SGA, of which the latter are most important for infant survival. Using LBW as an endpoint without adjusting for GA incorrectly estimated the effects of malaria in pregnancy. Ultrasound should be used for dating pregnancies and birth weights should be expressed as a function (or adjusted for GA) of GA in future malaria in pregnancy studies.

  • Pharmacokinetic Properties of Artemether, Dihydroartemisinin, Lumefantrine, and Quinine in Pregnant Women with Uncomplicated Plasmodium Falciparum Malaria in Uganda

    Tarning, J., Kloprogge, F., Dhorda, M., Jullien, V., Nosten, F., White, N. J., Guerin, P. J. and Piola, P.Antimicrob Agents Chemother, 2013, 57(10): 5096-103

    Pregnancy alters the pharmacokinetic properties of many drugs used in the treatment of malaria, usually resulting in lower drug exposures. This increases the risks of treatment failure, adverse outcomes for the fetus, and the development of resistance. The pharmacokinetic properties of artemether and its principal metabolite dihydroartemisinin (n = 21), quinine (n = 21), and lumefantrine (n = 26) in pregnant Ugandan women were studied. Lumefantrine pharmacokinetics in a nonpregnant control group (n = 17) were also studied. Frequently sampled patient data were evaluated with noncompartmental analysis. No significant correlation was observed between estimated gestational age and artemether, dihydroartemisinin, lumefantrine, or quinine exposures. Artemether/dihydroartemisinin and quinine exposures were generally low in these pregnant women compared to values reported previously for nonpregnant patients. Median day 7 lumefantrine concentrations were 488 (range, 30.7 to 3,550) ng/ml in pregnant women compared to 720 (339 to 2,150) ng/ml in nonpregnant women (P = 0.128). There was no statistical difference in total lumefantrine exposure or maximum concentration. More studies with appropriate control groups in larger series are needed to characterize the degree to which pregnant women are underdosed with current antimalarial dosing regimens.


  • Effect of Early Detection and Treatment on Malaria Related Maternal Mortality on The North-western Border of Thailand 1986-2010

    McGready, R., Boel, M., Rijken, M. J., Ashley, E. A., Cho, T., Moo, O., Paw, M. K., Pimanpanarak, M., Hkirijareon, L., Carrara, V. I., Lwin, K. M., Phyo, A. P., Turner, C., Chu, C. S., van Vugt, M., Price, R. N., Luxemburger, C., ter Kuile, PLoS ONE, 2012, 7(7): e40244

    Maternal mortality is high in developing countries, but there are few data in high-risk groups such as migrants and refugees in malaria-endemic areas. Trends in maternal mortality were followed over 25 years in antenatal clinics prospectively established in an area with low seasonal transmission on the north-western border of Thailand. 


    All medical records from women who attended the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit antenatal clinics from 12(th) May 1986 to 31(st) December 2010 were reviewed, and maternal death records were analyzed for causality. There were 71 pregnancy-related deaths recorded amongst 50,981 women who attended antenatal care at least once. Three were suicide and excluded from the analysis as incidental deaths. The estimated maternal mortality ratio (MMR) overall was 184 (95%CI 150-230) per 100,000 live births. In camps for displaced persons there has been a six-fold decline in the MMR from 499 (95%CI 200-780) in 1986-90 to 79 (40-170) in 2006-10, p<0.05. In migrants from adjacent Myanmar the decline in MMR was less significant: 588 (100-3260) to 252 (150-430) from 1996-2000 to 2006-2010. Mortality from P. falciparum malaria in pregnancy dropped sharply with the introduction of systematic screening and treatment and continued to decline with the reduction in the incidence of malaria in the communities. P. vivax was not a cause of maternal death in this population. Infection (non-puerperal sepsis and P. falciparum malaria) accounted for 39.7 (27/68) % of all deaths. 


    Frequent antenatal clinic screening allows early detection and treatment of falciparum malaria and substantially reduces maternal mortality from P. falciparum malaria. No significant decline has been observed in deaths from sepsis or other causes in refugee and migrant women on the Thai-Myanmar border.

  • Ultrasound Evidence of Early Fetal Growth Restriction after Maternal Malaria Infection

    Rijken, M. J., Papageorghiou, A. T., Thiptharakun, S., Kiricharoen, S., Dwell, S. L., Wiladphaingern, J., Pimanpanarak, M., Kennedy, S. H., Nosten, F. and McGready, R.PLoS ONE, 2012, 7(2): e31411

    Intermittent preventive treatment (IPT), the main strategy to prevent malaria and reduce anaemia and low birthweight, focuses on the second half of pregnancy. However, intrauterine growth restriction may occur earlier in pregnancy. The aim of this study was to measure the effects of malaria in the first half of pregnancy by comparing the fetal biparietal diameter (BPD) of infected and uninfected women whose pregnancies had been accurately dated by crown rump length (CRL) before 14 weeks of gestation. 


    In 3,779 women living on the Thai-Myanmar border who delivered a normal singleton live born baby between 2001-10 and who had gestational age estimated by CRL measurement <14 weeks, the observed and expected BPD z-scores (<24 weeks) in pregnancies that were (n = 336) and were not (n = 3,443) complicated by malaria between the two scans were compared. The mean (standard deviation) fetal BPD z-scores in women with Plasmodium (P) falciparum and/or P.vivax malaria infections were significantly lower than in non-infected pregnancies; -0.57 (1.13) versus -0.10 (1.17), p<0.001. Even a single or an asymptomatic malaria episode resulted in a significantly lower z-score. Fetal female sex (p<0.001) and low body mass index (p = 0.01) were also independently associated with a smaller BPD in multivariate analysis. 


    Despite early treatment in all positive women, one or more (a)symptomatic P.falciparum or P.vivax malaria infections in the first half of pregnancy result in a smaller than expected mid-trimester fetal head diameter. Strategies to prevent malaria in pregnancy should include early pregnancy.

  • Efficacy and Safety of Artemether-lumefantrine Compared with Quinine in Pregnant Women with Uncomplicated Plasmodium Falciparum Malaria: An Open-label, Randomised, Non-inferiority Trial

    Piola, Patrice, Nabasumba, Carolyn, Turyakira, Eleanor, Dhorda, Mehul, Lindegardh, Niklas, Nyehangane, Dan, Snounou, Georges, Ashley, Elizabeth A., McGready, Rose, Nosten, Francois and Guerin, Philippe J.The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 2010, 10(11): 762-769

    Background Malaria in pregnancy is associated with maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality. In 2006, WHO recommended use of artemisinin-based combination treatments during the second or third trimesters, but data on efficacy and safety in Africa were scarce. We aimed to assess whether artemether-lumefantrine was at least as efficacious as oral quinine for the treatment of uncomplicated falciparum malaria during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy in Mbarara, Uganda.


    We did an open-label, randomised, non-inferiority trial between October, 2006, and May, 2009, at the antenatal clinics of the Mbarara University of Science and Technology Hospital in Uganda. Pregnant women were randomly assigned (1:1) by computer generated sequence to receive either quinine hydrochloride or artemether-lumefantrine, and were followed up weekly until delivery. Our primary endpoint was cure rate at day 42, confirmed by PCR. The non-inferiority margin was a difference in cure rate of 5%. Analysis of efficacy was for all randomised patients without study deviations that could have affected the efficacy outcome. This study was registered with, number NCT00495508.


    304 women were randomly assigned, 152 to each treatment group. By day 42, 16 patients were lost to follow-up and 25 were excluded from the analysis. At day 42, 137 (99.3%) of 138 patients taking artemether-lumefantrine and 122 (97.6%) of 125 taking quinine were cured--difference 1.7% (lower limit of 95% CI -0.9). There were 290 adverse events in the quinine group and 141 in the artemether-lumefantrine group.Interpretation Artemisinin derivatives are not inferior to oral quinine for the treatment of uncomplicated malaria in pregnancy and might be preferable on the basis of safety and efficacy.

  • Epidemiology and Burden of Malaria in Pregnancy

    Desai, M., Ter Kuile, F. O., Nosten, F., McGready, R., Asamoa, K., Brabin, B. and Newman, R. D.Lancet Infect Dis, 2007, 7(2): 93-104

    We reviewed evidence of the clinical implications and burden of malaria in pregnancy. Most studies come from sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 25 million pregnant women are at risk of Plasmodium falciparum infection every year, and one in four women have evidence of placental infection at the time of delivery. P falciparum infections during pregnancy in Africa rarely result in fever and therefore remain undetected and untreated. Meta-analyses of intervention trials suggest that successful prevention of these infections reduces the risk of severe maternal anaemia by 38%, low birthweight by 43%, and perinatal mortality by 27% among paucigravidae. Low birthweight associated with malaria in pregnancy is estimated to result in 100 000 infant deaths in Africa each year. Although paucigravidae are most affected by malaria, the consequences for infants born to multigravid women in Africa may be greater than previously appreciated. This is because HIV increases the risk of malaria and its adverse effects, particularly in multigravidae, and recent observational studies show that placental infection almost doubles the risk of malaria infection and morbidity in infants born to multigravidae. Outside Africa, malaria infection rates in pregnant women are much lower but are more likely to cause severe disease, preterm births, and fetal loss. Plasmodium vivax is common in Asia and the Americas and, unlike P falciparum, does not cytoadhere in the placenta, yet, is associated with maternal anaemia and low birthweight. The effect of infection in the first trimester, and the longer term effects of malaria beyond infancy, are largely unknown and may be substantial. Better estimates are also needed of the effects of malaria in pregnancy outside Africa, and on maternal morbidity and mortality in Africa. Global risk maps will allow better estimation of potential impact of successful control of malaria in pregnancy.


  • Artemisinin Antimalarials in Pregnancy: A Prospective Treatment Study of 539 Episodes of Multidrug-resistant Plasmodium Falciparum

    Lubell Y, Riewpaiboon A, Dondorp AM, von Seidlein L, Mokuolu OA, Nansumba M,Gesase S, Kent A, Mtove G, Olaosebikan R, Ngum WP, Fanello CI, Hendriksen I, Day NP, White NJ, Yeung S Bull World Health Organ, 2011, 89(7): 504-12

    The emergence and spread of multidrug-resistant Plasmodium falciparum compromises the treatment of malaria, especially during pregnancy, where the choice of antimalarials is already limited. Artesunate (n=528) or artemether (n=11) was used to treat 539 episodes of acute P. falciparum malaria in 461 pregnant women, including 44 first-trimester episodes. Most patients (310 [57.5%]) received re-treatments after earlier treatment with quinine or mefloquine. By use of survival analysis, the cumulative artemisinin failure rate for primary infections was 6.6% (95% confidence interval, 1.0-12.3), compared with the re-treatment failure rate of 21.7% (95% confidence interval, 15.4- 28.0; P=.004). The artemisinins were well tolerated with no evidence of adverse effects. Birth outcomes did not differ significantly to community rates for abortion, stillbirth, congenital abnormality, and mean gestation at delivery. These results are reassuring, but further information about the safety of these valuable antimalarials in pregnancy is needed.

  • Effects of Plasmodium Vivax Malaria in Pregnancy

    Nosten, F., McGready, R., Simpson, J. A., Thwai, K. L., Balkan, S., Cho, T., Hkirijaroen, L., Looareesuwan, S. and White, N. J.Lancet, 1999, 354(9178): 546-9




    Plasmodium vivax is more common than P. falciparum as a cause of malaria in many parts of the tropics outside Africa. P. falciparum infection has harmful effects in pregnancy, but the effects of P. vivax have not been characterised. We investigated the effects of P. vivax infection during pregnancy.


    Since 1986, pregnant Karen women living in camps for displaced people on the western border of Thailand have been encouraged to attend antenatal clinics. Karen women were screened for malaria and anaemia at each week of pregnancy until delivery, and pregnancy outcome recorded. We compared the effects of P. vivax infection on anaemia and pregnancy outcome with those of P. falciparum and no malaria infection in the first pregnancy recorded at the antenatal clinics.


    There were 634 first episodes of pure P. vivax malaria in 9956 women. P. vivax malaria was more common in primigravidae than in multigravidae and was associated with mild anaemia and an increased risk of low birthweight (odds ratio 1.64 [95% CI 1.29-2.08], p<0.001). The birthweight was a mean of 107 g (95% CI 61-154) lower in women with P. vivax infection than in uninfected women. By contrast with P. falciparum malaria, the decrease in birthweight was greater in multigravidae. P. vivax malaria was not associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, or with a shortened duration of pregnancy.


    P. vivax malaria during pregnancy is associated with maternal anaemia and low birthweight. The effects of P. vivax infection are less striking than those of P. falciparum infection, but antimalarial prophylaxis against P. vivax in pregnancy may be justified.

  • Artemisinin Derivatives in The Treatment of Falciparum Malaria in Pregnancy

    McGready, R., Cho, T., Cho, J. J., Simpson, J. A., Luxemburger, C., Dubowitz, L., Looareesuwan, S., White, N. J. and Nosten, F.Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 1998, 92(4): 430-3


    An artemisinin derivative (artesunate or artemether) was used for the treatment of multidrug-resistant Plasmodium falciparum malaria in 83 Karen pregnant women in Thailand; 55 women were treated for recrudescent infection following quinine or mefloquine, 12 for uncomplicated hyperparasitaemic episodes, and 16 had not declared their pregnancy when treated. The women were followed weekly until delivery. Artesunate and artemether were well tolerated and there was no drug- related adverse effect. Recrudescence within 42 d occurred in 16% of the treated episodes. Overall 73 pregnancies (88%) resulted in live births, 3 (4%) in abortions and 2 (3%) in still births, and 5 women were lost to follow-up before delivery. There was no congenital abnormality in any of the newborn children, and the 46 children followed for more than one year all developed normally.

  • Maternal Antibodies Block Malaria

    Fried, M., Nosten, F., Brockman, A., Brabin, B. J. and Duffy, P. E.Nature, 1998, 395(6705): 851-2

    Women are at increased risk from malaria during pregnancy, and, for unknown reasons, this risk is greatest during the first pregnancy. Plasmodium falciparum, the most virulent of the four malaria parasites of humans, adheres to a molecule called chondroitin sulphate A (CSA) on the surface of syncytiotrophoblasts (cells lining the intervillous space) and sequesters in the human placenta. Here we show that anti-adhesion antibodies, which limit the accumulation of parasites in the placenta, appear in pregnant women from Africa and Asia who have been pregnant on previous occasions (multigravidas), but not in those who are pregnant for the first time (primigravidas). Anti-adhesion antibodies against CSA-binding parasites are strain-independent and are associated with greatly reduced prevalence and density of infection. We conclude that malaria susceptibility in primigravidas is related to the lack of these anti-adhesion antibodies, and that an anti-adhesion vaccine for maternal malaria may be globally effective.


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