The devastating impact of malaria could be dramatically reduced after scientists from the University of Tübingen in Germany created a vaccine that, in limited trials, offered 100 percent protection against infection for at least 10 weeks after the final dose.
The Tübingen study involved 67 healthy adults, with the best immune response shown in a group of nine people that received the highest dose of the vaccine three times at four-week intervals. At the end of the trial, all nine individuals had 100 percent protection from the disease.
“By vaccinating with a live, fully active pathogen, it seems clear that we were able to set of a very strong immune response,” said study leader Benjamin Mordmueller.
“The researchers analysed the bodies’ immune reactions and identified protein patterns which will make it possible to further improve malaria vaccines,” explained co-author Professor Peter Kremsner.
Additionally, subjects who received lower concentrations of the vaccine dose still show some protection against infection, with one-third or two-thirds of vaccinated people demonstrating immunity, depending on the dose.
No severe human side effects were found during the trial, with the frequency of adverse reactions to the vaccine the same for those who received a placebo.
Malaria was the reported cause of 429,000 deaths in 2015 with 212 million new cases in that year alone. Children under the age of 5 accounted for around three quarters of global malaria-related deaths in 2015 and it is estimated that a child dies from malaria every 30 seconds.
Mosquitoes carrying the deadly malaria parasite have existed alongside humans for thousands of years with the disease appearing in documented reports as early as 2700 BC. Mosquitoes are known carriers of several serious diseases and are responsible, more recently, for the Zika virus epidemic of 2015/16 that was linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains – a disorder known as microcephaly.
Malaria’s long history includes many historic attempts to defeat it. Quinine, a substance derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, has been considered an effective method against malaria since the 1600s.
After the role of mosquitoes in malaria transmission was understood, scientists focused on controlling the mosquitoes themselves, known as vectors. They hypothesised that that by killing the vector, they could halt the cycle of infection. Consequently, DDT and other insecticides came into fashion in the mid-1900s and have been used ever since. Mosquito nets hung over beds to protect sleeping people from bites are another prevalent form of control that is extremely cost effective.
The development of several different anti-malarial drugs has changed the way travellers view malaria-endemic countries and the risk associated with them. In fact due to the aforementioned measures, estimated deaths from malaria fell 13 percent, from 755,000 in 2000 to 655,000 in 2010.
Cases of the disease continued to fall, although less dramatically, from 223 million in 2000 to about 216 million in 2010, but have failed to fall much further in recent years.