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Malaria Vaccine Via Parasite Injection May Be in the Works

Human challenge trial shows promising results.

Mosquito-- by Jenara Nerenberg

The Gist

Malaria remains one of the most difficult infectious diseases to prevent and treat, particularly in the developing world. However, in a new study, researchers from the United States and the Netherlands may have developed a new weapon against the disease in the form of an injection containing malarial parasites. The findings from the recent study are being presented this week at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene's (ASTMH) annual meeting. They indicate for the first time ever that parasite injection results in controlled infection. The procedure holds promise for not only future research but also development of an effective vaccine. 

The Expert Take

"This study is a great example of the innovative and dynamic research being done through partnerships across academic and corporate sectors that's translating research into needed tools to control and ultimately eradicate malaria," said James Kazura, president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 

The method of infection used in this study is labeled a "human challenge" trial, in which live human volunteers are injected with parasites rather than exposed to biting mosquitoes.

"What we have here is a new avenue, a new clue to study how the infection develops, and with that we are moving closer to eliminating what is truly a global scourge."

Source and Method

For this study, 18 adults in the Netherlands participated between October 2010 and July 2011. All of them received an injection containing parasites. Out of this group, 84 percent of the participants developed a controlled infection and were later successfully treated. 

The Takeaway

The important finding here is that infection via injection looks to be a viable method of malaria research. New and innovative research is being conducted constantly. Those who live, work, or travel in malaria-affected regions should be aware of possible future protective measures, such as vaccines. Currently people primarily rely on prescription pills, such as doxycycline, which is also used as an antibiotic for other conditions.

Other Research

Previous studies have shown the effectiveness of malaria vaccines. In 2010, the same researchers who performed the above research showed that malaria vaccines were effective at preventing malarial infection and transmission of malarial parasites. In 2011, another study showed that malaria vaccines protected against severe malaria in children in parts of Africa. And another 2011 article highlights the risks and benefits associated with human challenge trials like the one discussed above.
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Tags: Epidemics , Global Health , Latest Studies & Research , Public Health & Policy

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.