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Breakthrough in Malaria vaccine

By Jonathan Lam     Aug 9, 2013 in Science
The U.S. Navy along with the federal government and the medical industry have developed the first ever complete vaccine against malaria. So far it is still under the development stage.
Malaria is a blood disease that is transferred from human to human by the Anopheles mosquito. It causes fever and vomiting and can disrupt the blood supply to vital organs if untreated. Symptoms show up to 10 to 15 days after being bitten by a mosquito. It's endemic to tropical countries, and according the the World Health Organization the parasite has become resistant to a number of treatments. Malaria sickens more than 200 million a year and in the year 2010 killed about 660,000 people.
With no effective vaccine, efforts to control the disease have focused on mosquito control and disturbing pesticide-laced nets. The World Health Organization claims people visiting the tropics from countries where the disease is not endemic are particularly vulnerable.
Now U.S researchers reported a breakthrough on Thursday in the search for a vaccine for malaria. The experiment involved more than three dozen volunteers all receiving multiple doses of a vaccine produced with a weakened form of the disease. Even though the experiment marks the first time any vaccine trail has shown 100 percent success in protecting subjects from the mosquito-borne tropical disease, more extensive field testing will be required.
The head of the preventive medicine department at Vanderbilt University's medical school, Dr. William Schaffner, says that the results show "a scientific advance" but it's "not ready yet for prime time." Schaffner states, " This is not a vaccine that's ready for travelers to the developing world anytime soon. However, from the point of view of science dealing with one of the big-three infectious causes of death around the world, it's a notable advance. And everybody will be holding their breath, watching to see whether this next trial works and how well it works."
The vaccine administered to the volunteers was produced by Maryland company Sanaria Inc. and tested by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Naval Medical Research Center.
The vaccine was produced using samples of Plasmodium falciparum, the single-celled parasite that causes the disease. The samples were weakened by radiation and then frozen. The vaccine was "safe and well-tolerated" by the volunteers who received it, the study states.
There are drugs out there that can stave off malaria, but must be combined with other protective measures such as insect repellent or nets. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, none of them are 100% effective. Schaffner said future studies need to involve larger groups in field conditions and examinations of how long the vaccines stave off infection. Using multiple intravenous doses -- a process unlike any other vaccine -- "requires a great deal of aseptic practice and good training," and the risk of infection is a possibility, he said.
"We don't know how long this protection lasts yet. Lots of questions remain. But that should not diminish the fact that this is a scientific advance," Schaffner concludes.
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