Science

Researchers make malaria vaccine breakthrough

NIH says it has made "important step forward" in combating malaria

Tobias Schwarz/ Reuters

Top U.S. researchers announced Thursday that they have made an "important step forward" in the development of a malaria vaccine, an infection which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year -- mostly children.

The vaccine, known as PfSPZ, is composed of "live but weakened" malaria parasites, taken from Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly species of infected mosquitoes. Infected mosquitoes transmit the disease to humans through biting them.

Researchers at National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- the world's largest medical research facility -- conducted a test of the vaccine, developed by scientists at biotechnology firm Sanaria Inc., on 57 healthy adults, between the ages of 18 and 45.

Of the 15 participants who received higher dosages of the vaccine and were then bitten by five mosquitoes carrying the disease, only three participants were infected. All but one of the 17 participants who received a lower dosage became infected. Some participants did recieve the vaccine.

“This is still a phase-one trial. Athough it’s an important step, it would be very premature to think about it being available to the public,” director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony S. Fauci, told Al Jazeera.

A number of tests will determine if the effects of the test announced Thursday could be reproduced.

“You have got to figure out how you can produce the vaccine in way that can be practically administered. It’s not practical to give it intravenously on a mass scale,” Fauci added.

Fauci was unable to estimate how much the vaccine would cost at time of publication.

The need for a vaccine, meanwhile, is growing. A study from public health researchers at The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a health policy think thank, published in March showed there were an estimated 219 million malaria cases in 2010, which caused 660,000 deaths, "mostly in children under the age of five."

"Malaria is a leading cause of death for children, who represent 86 percent of all malaria deaths. Children are at risk because they lack developed immune systems to protect against the disease," the study stated.

Al Jazeera

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