Malaria vaccine moves step nearer

04 July 2013 09:29

Malaria parasites thrive in red blood cells

Malaria parasites thrive in red blood cells

The quest for a malaria vaccine has moved a step further after an Australian trial proved successful on mice.

The vaccine caused naturally existing white cells, or T-cells, to attack the potentially deadly malaria parasite that lives in red blood cells.

This is encouraging news for travellers, who need to be particularly wary if visiting a country where the disease is present. Those travelling to such countries should remember to arrange medical travel insurance before leaving home.

Scientists from Queensland's Griffith University reported that a single vaccination led to immunity to different malaria parasite species.

Lead author Professor Michael Good said the team's research, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, was focused on inducing the white blood cells to attack the parasite, whatever the malaria strain.

"The T-cells, when they're induced to kill malaria, can recognise proteins throughout the parasite, even internal proteins in the parasite," he said.

"So that's where we think the novel aspect is. We've been able to induce a form of immune response which can recognise molecules in the parasite which are present in every single strain."

Prof Good said he believed it was the first time a vaccine had been shown to protect against more than two strains of malaria in mice.

The vaccine is expected to be cheap and easy to manufacture, so if it works on humans it could have a significant impact in poor countries where malaria kills thousands of people every year.

"But we don't want to get ahead of ourselves," Prof Good cautioned. "We want to demonstrate, first and foremost, that the vaccine is effective in humans."

In 2010 an estimated 219 million people were infected with the disease and around 660,000 died, most of them African children under the age of five, the World Health Organisation said.

A study published in the Lancet in February 2012 said the global death toll was more likely to be around 1.2 million a year.

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