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New Ammunition Against Malaria

Malaria causes at least two million deaths every year, and despite years of research, there is still no effective vaccine against the single-cell, mosquito-borne parasite that causes it. Now researchers at MIT and Australia’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research have developed a synthetic version of a malaria toxin that has proved an extremely effective vaccine in mice, according to a study published in Nature last August.

MIT chemist Peter Seeberger and Australian microbiologist Louis Schofield hope their project will yield an effective human vaccine. Schofield believes the vaccine will help block even the most severe-and often fatal-symptoms of malaria, including fluid in the lungs and cerebral malaria, in which infected red blood cells block blood flow to the brain.

About 10 years ago Schofield isolated a complex sugar from the most lethal malaria parasite; he believes this sugar is a toxin responsible for many of malaria’s worst symptoms. Using a device he developed, Seeberger has made the sugar from scratch, quickly and in quantities that are large enough to test as a vaccine. Seventy-five percent of the mice immunized with the synthetic toxin survived malaria infection; those that were not vaccinated died.

Over the next year the team plans to test the antitoxin vaccine in primates. But even with good results, it may be 10 years before the vaccine is fully tested and approved.

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Tagged: Biomedicine

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