Malaria is a major disease worldwide affecting billions of people. Until now no vaccine could be produced inexpensively on a mass scale. In a significant step forwards, a new, inexpensive vaccine has been trialled using algae.
A science group based at the University of California, San Diego have genetically engineered algae to prepare a vaccine which can prevent the transmission of the parasite that causes malaria.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by a parasite. The symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases progressing to coma or death. It is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, including much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Americas. According to the World Health Organization's 2011 World Malaria Report, accounting for 2.23% of deaths worldwide.
The research team, as a research brief summarizes, used algae to produce special malaria proteins. Studies were run in mice, where the mice were infected with the malaria parasite. These proteins, when injected into the body, produced antibodies against the malarial parasite (in this case, Plasmodium falciparum), which functioned to prevent malaria transmission.
The complexity of making a vaccine against malaria is that the proteins need to be of a similar size and shape of the parasite in order for the antibodies to be generated. For this an edible green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii was used. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is a single celled green alga about 10 micrometres in diameter that swims with two flagella.
What makes this vaccine special is the low production costs. Algae can be grown any place on the planet, such as in ponds, making it easy and inexpensive to produce.
The study was led by Joseph Vinetz, a professor of medicine at UC San Diego and a leading expert in tropical diseases. The research findings were published in the journal PLoS ONE.
The reference is:
Gregory JA et al. Algae-Produced Pfs25 Elicits Antibodies That Inhibit Malaria Transmission. PLoS ONE, 2012
If the vaccine makes into mass production, it could become an inexpensive way to protect billions of people from malaria worldwide.