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Early Stage Trial Finds Malaria Vaccine Promotes Immune Response In Young Children, Study Says

An experimental vaccine was found to promote immune responses to malaria in young children in Mali, Reuters reports. According to the news service, “The vaccine, which uses an immune system booster called an adjuvant from British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, targets the malaria parasite as it is actively infecting red blood cells and causing fever and illness” (Steenhuysen, 2/3).

“In an early-stage trial of the vaccine in 100 children ages 1 to 6 in Mali, those who received the shots gained the same level of [immunie response] normally seen in adults with lifelong exposure to the mosquito-borne disease, researchers … wrote in the Feb. 4 online edition of the journal PLoS ONE,” Bloomberg/BusinessWeek reports (Bennett, 2/4).

The study, which was conducted by University of Maryland scientists and Malian researchers from the Malaria Research and Training Center, said “very strong antibody responses … were sustained for at least a year,” Agence France-Presse writes, adding that “[a]ll three doses of the malaria vaccine were well tolerated by the children.” The University of Maryland’s Christopher Plowe, a lead author of the study said, “These findings imply that we may have achieved our goal of using a vaccine to reproduce the natural protective immunity that normally takes years of intense exposure to malaria to develop,” AFP reports.

“Based on the success of the vaccine on the small sample of children, the researchers are conducting a broader trial on 400 Malian children. That study will also examine whether the single-strain vaccine can protect against the broad array of malaria parasites that exist,” according to the news service (2/3).

The U.S. Army sponsored the study, and it was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and USAID, according to a press release. “The new vaccine, called FMP2.1/AS02A, was developed as part of a longstanding research collaboration between the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) [and] GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals (GSK),” according to the release (2/3).

In related news, “Investigators said on Wednesday they had made important lab discoveries in mosquitoes and the parasite which causes malaria, opening up new paths for attacking a disease that claims nearly a million lives per year,” AFP reports. The findings appear in two studies published in the journal Nature.

In one study, “researchers said they had found more than two dozen smell receptors in the mosquito Anopheles gambiae that enables the insect to home in on human sweat. Some of the receptors ‘could be excellent targets’ for chemicals to snare mosquitoes or repel them, said the study’s senior author, John Carlson, a professor of molecular biology.” The scientists are now seeing if there are compounds that interact with those receptors, he said (2/3).

In the second study, researchers identified how “a protein called plasmepsin V” ensures a parasite’s survival, writes the Australian. The finding could lead to the development of new malaria drugs (Findlay, 2/4). Australia’s ABC News features an interview with study author Alan Cowman, who is the head of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Infection and Immunity division in Melbourne (Mark, 2/4).  

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