WASHINGTON – Scientists seeking a vaccine against malaria — which kills a child every minute in Africa — have developed a promising new approach intended to imprison the disease-causing parasites inside the red blood cells they infect.
The researchers said Thursday an experimental vaccine based on this idea protected mice in five trials and will be tested on lab monkeys beginning in the next four to six weeks.
Dr. Jonathan Kurtis, director of Rhode Island Hospital’s Center for International Health Research, said if the monkey trials go well, a so-called Phase I clinical trial testing the vaccine in a small group of people could begin within about 18 months.
Using blood samples and epidemiological data collected from hundreds of children in Tanzania, where malaria is endemic, by Drs. Patrick Duffy and Michal Fried of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the researchers pinpointed a protein, dubbed PfSEA-1, that the parasites need in order to escape from inside red blood cells they infect as they cause malaria.
The researchers then found that antibodies sent by the body’s immune system to take action against this protein managed to trap the parasites inside the red blood cells, blocking the progression of the disease.