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India awaits breakthrough in malaria vaccine

Researchers in the United States have discovered a vaccine for Malaria, a disease that kills over a million people world over every year, and nearly 47,000 in India. Yashwant Raj reports.

world Updated: Aug 10, 2013 00:22 IST
Yashwant Raj

Researchers in the United States have discovered a vaccine for Malaria, a disease that kills over a million people world over every year, and nearly 47,000 in India.

The National Institutes of Health, which conducted clinical evaluations with Army and Navy researchers, called the vaccine “investigational”, meaning not ready for you and me yet.

“These trial results are a promising first step in generating high-level protection against malaria,” said Dr Robert A Seder, lead investigator for the research.

Malaria is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes -- anopheles. After the bite, the infectious parasite travels to the liver, where it multiplies and enters the bloodstream.

WHO describes malaria as a “preventable and treatable mosquito-borne disease”, whose main victims are children under five in Africa, which is Ground Zero.

Though malaria is curable, it remains fatal in many parts of the world, specially poorer Africa and Asia, where it’s fatal because of lack of adequate medial intervention.

In South Asia, which WHO says is the world’s second most-malaria prone, India has the highest “malaria burden” (malaria cases) with an estimated 24 million cases a year.

WHO estimates 15,000 of those infected die. Government of India admits to only around 1,000 fatalities, which was put by Lancet, a medical journal, at 46,970 for 2010.

The vaccine used in the trials was developed by scientists at Sanaria Inc., a Maryland-based biotechnology company focussed on finding a malaria vaccine.

The clinical trial, which took place at the NIH in Bethesda, used 57 healthy volunteers -- all adults. Forty of whom were administered the vaccine, intravenously, and the rest weren’t.

The first good sign: the vaccine caused no adverse effects.

All volunteers were then exposed to five mosquitoes carrying the P. falciparum strain, the most dangerous form of malaria-causing species of parasite called plasmodium.

Not all of those vaccinated got the same dosage -- 15 received more than the others. Researchers wanted to test not only the effectiveness of the vaccine but also the dose.

“The researchers found that the higher dosages of (the) vaccine were associated with protection against malaria infection,” said the National Institutes of Health.

In short, higher the dosage, better the protection.

Only three of the 15 administered higher dosage got infected, while all of those given lower dosage did. And so did all but one of those not vaccinated at all.

It was a significant first step, as Dr Seder said.

Researchers will now be looking at many related aspect, including the delivery system. The vaccine was administered intravenously, a “rare delivery route for vaccines”.

Without explaining, the NIH said the vaccine was found less effective when administered intradermal (into the skin) or subcutaneous (under the skin), the usual way.

“A number of follow-up studies are planned, including research to evaluate the vaccine’s different dose schedules, possible protection against other Plasmodium strains and the durability of protection,” the NIH said in a statement.

India will be watching, and very closely.