By: Amanda Froelich,
A significant breakthrough was announced by US scientists regarding the dangerous mosquito-borne disease that kill nearly one million people per year. Ground may have been gained after a human trial with the new vaccine proved 100% successful against malaria, a statistical first in history.
Malaria, which is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, infects an estimated 216 million people per year and has devastating effect. With the introduction of such a successful vaccine, there is hope many lives can be saved from the parasite which induces sickness side effects, and untreated, becomes life threatening.
In US studies, three dozen volunteers were given multiple doses of a vaccine produced with a weakened form of the mosquito-borne disease. Results were promising: the three month-long trial was 100 percent successful in protecting all of the subjects who received the strongest dose of the vaccine. The positive results which suggest science could be nearing the elimination of the disease were released early August by researchers from the National Institute of Health, the Navy, Army, and other organizations.
Contracted normally, Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitos, multiplies in the liver then infects red blood cells. For trial purposes, a weakened sporozoite of the form of malaria was utilized to create the vaccine PfSPZ. The samples were weakened by radiation and then frozen but remained in whole form to trigger an immune response.
57 people in total took part in the trial with 40 receiving some form of the vaccine. All were then bitten by infectious mosquitos and scientists tested if they had developed the disease after one week. The six subjects given intravenous doses of PfSPZ were entirely protected, none becoming infected with the disease.
Other results were very promising, however not as definitive. Of the nine who received four doses of the vaccine, three became infected. However, of the 12 who received no vaccine, 11 tested positive for the disease.
Another beneficial aspect is that not one of the participants experienced any side effects, a common downside to current vaccinations. Greatly promising, it’s clear further research and studies need to be conducted; if proven successful, it most likely will be years before it can be utilized in communities imperatively in need.
The ‘scientific advance’ could need as many as 10 years before the vaccine can be scientifically proven, approved, and distributed for use according to Dr. William Schaffner, head of the preventative medicine department at Vanderbilt University’s medical school. CNN recorded his confirming statement that “This is not a vaccine that’s ready for travelers to the developing world anytime soon”.
Because malaria is one of the top infectious causes-of-death in the world, however, science views the study so far as a notable advance.
According to Dr. Schaffner, while multiple intravenous injections seem a very cumbersome way to administer the vaccine, ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’. Many questions remain, but the scientific victory should not diminish the advance which so far shows researchers are on the correct path. With planned large group studies in conditions one is more likely to contract the disease, it’s time that will show how effective the vaccine is, hopefully saving many lives in years to come.