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Six Experts, Six Answers

Six Experts, Six Answers

Why don't we have a malaria vaccine?

Fidel ZavalaThe evidence overwhelmingly supports the idea that a malaria vaccine is possible, but the advances are slow and are frequently prohibitively expensive to reproduce on a mass scale.

For example, people have been vaccinated against malaria experimentally by using attenuated forms of the parasite, but to induce an immune response, you need to use the sporozoite form of the parasite, which is derived from the salivary gland of the mosquito. So you must get the salivary gland, dissect it, take out the sporozoites, irradiate the parasites and use these forms to vaccinate. It is impractical and extremely expensive. For countries with endemic malaria, there is no way they can afford a vaccine that is made under such expensive conditions.

There has never been a successful, mass-produced vaccine against a parasite before. The challenge is to identify a way of producing and preserving billions of parasites on an industrial scale so they can be used to immunize people in endemic areas.

The alternative—and this malaria vaccine research has been going on for a couple of decades—is to identify the molecules of the parasite that the immune system can react against and try to make a synthetic vaccine that can be produced on a large scale and can be kept under relatively easy conditions without refrigeration so it can be administered in endemic areas. But there have been no successful vaccines so far that are based on the use of an isolated protein.

But I’m convinced that it [a malaria vaccine] will happen, and it should happen. The scientific basis for a malaria vaccine is stronger than for some forms of hepatitis C or HIV. I’m extremely optimistic for the long term.

Fidel Zavala, MD, is a professor in the Bloomberg School’s W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology and a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute.


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  • Dr. C. Nagaraj

    Bangalore, India 02/08/2011 10:47:20 PM

    I wish to inform you that already resistance of Pf has occurred and I have detected resistant Pf from Karnataka, Maharastra and Orissa in India - resistant to ACT (Artisunate +SP) by therapeutic efficacy method (in vivo). I can send my findings to you if are interested. I have lot of interesting findings which I wish to discuss - gametocyte increase after ACT, side effects of ACT, etc.

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