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Malaria Vaccine Trial Reviewed

The research for malaria vaccinations is a thriving field, with 20 studies underway at the time of writing this. Although the studies vary in terms of the phase they are in, one thing they do have in common is that researchers rarely use overly optimistic words to describe their findings. That is why we were surprised when recent reports in mainstream media were suggesting that a study into malaria vaccination had promising results.

The study, which was published in Science, was a phase I trial that included a total of 57 healthy participants. The groups were split into two, with members in one group not receiving any vaccinations and members in the other group receiving two to six doses of the vaccine intravenously, which increased as the study went on. After a week of observation the researchers did not find any side effects in the treatment group. Therefore, the researchers ensured that all the participants had been exposed to malaria infected mosquitoes. Again, the participants were monitored for a week and those infected received treatment. The key findings indicated that 11 out of 12 participants that were not vaccinated got infected after they were exposed to mosquitoes carrying the virus. In contrast to that, three out of 15 participants in the group that received the highest dosage became infected. Lastly, 16 out of 17 participants in the group that received the lowest dosage became infected upon exposure to mosquitoes carrying the virus. The researcher suggested that this effect could be due to the fact that individuals who receive over 1000 mosquito bites tend to develop immunity.

Although the study was interesting, two areas are particularly important to note. First, the sample was not very big. Secondly, the study was concerned with one type of malaria parasite, the so-called Plasmodium falciparum. Both of these issues limited the findings substantially. In addition to that, it is worth asking whether intravenous vaccination is feasible in the community. Having said that, there is no denying that the vaccination itself is a remarkable achievement as it demonstrates that the researchers managed to manufacture a treatment from dissecting mosquitoes. It is our hope that larger trials will establish whether the vaccination is safe and efficient, and perhaps add minor tweaks to make it suitable for a clinical environment.

You can read more about the various vaccine initiatives here - http://www.who.int/vaccine_research/links/Rainbow/en/