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Researchers soon to begin human trials of genetically-engineered malaria vaccine

In collaboration with researchers from the U.S., Japan, and Canada, Australian researchers have created a weakened form of the malaria parasite that will be used as a live vaccine.
 
 
 
In collaboration with researchers from the U.S., Japan, and Canada, Australian researchers have created a weakened form of the malaria parasite that will be used as a live vaccine. Similar vaccines have been tested in mice, providing 100 percent protection against the disease. Human trials are set to begin in 2010.

Malaria infects the liver before invading the bloodstream. By removing two key genes in the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, the most deadly form of malaria humans, the parasite is stopped during its liver infection phase, preventing it from spreading to the bloodstream where it can cause severe illness and death. Using a weakened form of the whole organism that causes a disease has previously proven successful, eradicating smallpox and controlling diseases such as flu and polio.
"Although two genes have been deleted the parasite is still alive and able to stimulate the body's protective immune system to recognize and destroy incoming mosquito-transmitted deadly parasites," says Professor Alan Cowman, head of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's Infection and Immunity division. "Although vaccines are under development that use whole malaria parasites weakened by irradiation to protect against infection, their safety and effectiveness rely on a precise irradiation dose and trial results have been variable. We believe that our genetically-attenuated parasite approach provides a safe and reproducible way of developing a whole organism malaria vaccine."
According to Professor Cowman, it is unlikely that the altered parasites could regain their former strength because genes had been deleted from the genome and could not be recreated by the parasite. "In addition, the 'one-two punch' approach of deleting two essential genes make it extremely unlikely that the attenuated parasite vaccine could restore its capacity to multiply and lead to disease," he says.
The research is funded by a USD$17 million, five-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation has listed the elimination of malaria as one of its primary goals. Human trails will be held at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland beginning in early 2010.
Walther and Eliza Hall Institute: http://www.wehi.edu.au/
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/topics/pages/malaria.aspx
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