A new malaria vaccine, developed in the US, is showing positive signs in primary stage trials.
The Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health, in Maryland, organised the trial, which involved high-dose ‘injecting live but weakened malaria-causing parasites’ into patients in order to activate the vaccine’s protection abilities.
Early results published in the journal Science indicated that 12 out of 15 test subjects were protected from the disease.
Speaking to the BBC Dr Robert Seder, one of the researchers and chief of the Cellular Immunology Section at the Vaccine Research Center said: "We were excited and thrilled by the result, but it is important that we repeat it, extend it and do it in larger numbers."
Sanaria, the US biotechnology developing the vaccine, has taken lab-grown mosquitoes, exposed them to radiation, and removed the malaria-causing parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) using a completely sterile environment.
The weakened parasites were subsequently counted, put into vials and later injected into each patient’s bloodstream.
During the first phase of the trial, the researchers dealt with 57 test subjects, who had never been exposed to malaria.
From this group, 40 were given a various doses of the vaccine known as PfSPZ, while the remaining 17 were not given the injection.
The researchers discovered that the patients that were given no or low dosages, all became infected with the disease.
However, the group that was given the highest dose, only 3 out of 15 had the infection.
"It allows us in future studies to increase the dose and alter the schedule of the vaccine to further optimise it," Dr Seder added. "The next critical questions will be whether the vaccine is durable over a long period of time and can the vaccine protect against other strains of malaria."
Also speaking to the BBC Dr Ashley Birkett, the deputy director of research and development at the Path Malaria Vaccine initiative added: "They are clearly very early stage trials in small numbers of volunteers, but without question we are extremely encouraged by the results."
Image: Scientists have known for a long time that red blood cells infected with the malaria parasite can lead to death by sticking to the sides of blood vessels and causing lethal blockages. Photo: file image.