Thursday, 2 June 2016

Small Study Makes Big Steps toward Finding a Vaccine for Malaria


Malaria is carried by mosquitoes and is one of the most well-known and most dreaded diseases in the world. Each year, the disease affects hundreds of millions of people and kills over half a million, writes Megan Ray Nichols in guest post.

While strides have been made toward creating a vaccine, no one has been able to prevent malaria infection at a high enough percentage for it to be considered successful. That may be changing soon, however, thanks to the diligent work of some persistent scientists.

Current Malaria Treatments

Malaria treatments are currently based on a regimen of early detection and then treatment with various anti-malaria drugs. In order to successfully treat a malaria infection, the physician must complete what is known as a parasitological diagnosis — a blood sample is taken from an infected patient and treated with acridine orange, which is a fluorescent dye that reacts with the malaria parasites in the blood. The dye causes the parasites to change color and appear brightly when seen under a specific type of microscope.

This is necessary because there are actually two forms of malaria, categorized by the type of parasite that is infecting the blood.

Plasmodium falciparum is the most common type of malaria. Unfortunately it is also the most deadly form of the virus. Its companion, Plasmodium vivax (P.vivax), is far less common. There are also a couple of very rare forms of the virus, designated as plasmodium ovule and Plasmodium malariae, which look very similar to P.vivax and may be more difficult to diagnose.

Once the specific strain of malaria has been determined, a treatment plan can be set up to best defeat the virus.

Vaccine Progress

Right now, in spite of the enormous number of cases each year, scientists have not been able to create a vaccine that protects against malaria. A new, albeit small, study has found a vaccine that may protect adults from the most common form of malaria, P. Falciparum, for up to a full year.


By injecting a weakened version of the live virus into 59 of the 101 study volunteers and then exposing them to the virus, scientists were surprised to see that it protected those injected with the vaccine up to 50% of the time.
Additionally, those who are protected by the vaccine seem to be unable to spread the virus to others, so even if they are bitten by an infected mosquito, the insect will not be able to transmit the virus. 

Moving Forward

Though it doesn’t offer 100% protection, this vaccine is a great step forward in getting rid of the mosquito-borne virus that affects so many people every year. In 2015 alone, there were an estimated 214 million cases of Malaria worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Imagine the impact this vaccine could make, even with the 50% protection the vaccine currently offers — how many of those 214 million cases wouldn’t have to happen at all?

The vaccine in its current form is already making an impact, both in areas affected by the virus and in the scientific communities. The eventual goal is to use this vaccine to help prevent malaria infections in African children, who are often the hardest hit by the disease.

While we’re not there yet, this progress toward finding a fully functional vaccine is incredibly inspiring, and it will be amazing to see what these scientists come up with next.