Naturally immune children could help create malaria vaccine

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 627,000 people die from malaria every year. In Tanzania, where it is especially prevalent, researchers found a group of children who were naturally resistant to the disease.
By Aileen Graef  |  May 23, 2014 at 11:07 AM
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PROVIDENCE, R.I., May 23 (UPI) -- Researchers at Brown University believe they are closer to creating a malaria vaccine after studying a group of children in Tanzania who are naturally immune to the disease.

After studying 1,000 children in Tanzania during the first few years of their lives, scientists found that about 6 percent of the children were naturally immune to malaria.

The team tried to isolate the antibody the children possessed to see how it enabled resistance. They found the antibodyattacks the malaria parasite at a critical stage in its life cycle. It traps the parasite in red blood cells and prevents it from exploding and spreading throughout the body.

"Most vaccine candidates for malaria have worked by trying to prevent parasites from entering red blood cells. We've taken a different approach. We've found a way to block it from leaving the cell once it has entered. It can't go anywhere. It can't do any further damage," said Dr. Jonathan Kurtis of Rhode Island Hospital. "We're sort of trapping the parasite in the burning house."

Kurtis and his fellow researchers isolated the antibody and ran tests on mice that suggest it could be used in a potential vaccine.

"The survival rate was over two-fold longer if the mice were vaccinated compared with unvaccinated -- and the parasitemia (the number of parasites in the blood) were up to four-fold lower in the vaccinated mice," reported Kurtis.

Much more research is needed and Kurtis warns that it is not the perfect solution by itself.

"It would ludicrously fortuitous to think that this would be a stand-alone vaccine," he cautioned.

Trials on monkeys must be conducted, then the researchers will start organizing the first round of human trials.

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