New Malaria Vaccine Shows Promise

Source: Barbara Mantel / NBC News

After decades of frustrating research to find a highly effective malaria vaccine, a novel approach is showing promise against the mosquito-transmitted disease, a team of government, academic, and private researchers reported in a study published Thursday in the journal Science. Malaria infected an estimated 200 million people worldwide in 2010 and caused as many as 1.24 million deaths, mostly in children.

In an early-stage clinical trial, the so-named PfSPZ vaccine protected from malaria infection all six volunteers who received five doses, the most, and protected six of the nine volunteers who received four doses. In contrast, five out of the six unvaccinated participants became infected with the disease.

“Clearly the results that these authors obtained are really very impressive. For those individuals receiving five doses, they are recording 100 percent protection,” says Nirbhay Kumar, chair of the Department of Tropical Medicine at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, who is working on a different kind of vaccine that would prevent mosquitoes from transmitting the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria. That level of protection is the highest seen so far in any malaria vaccine trial.

But today’s published study involved a Phase I clinical trial, the first step in human testing, and the number of subjects is very small. “Clearly this is just the beginning” of research needed to determine if the vaccine could ever be of practical use, says Kumar.

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