Friday, 26 May 2017

Why Research Casts Serious Doubt on Malaria Vaccine's Efficacy

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Research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paints a very different picture regarding RTS,S and other malaria vaccines in development. The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, used DNA fingerprinting to show that the malaria parasite has wide genetic diversity. Among 600 children with malaria living in Gabon, each child's malaria was caused by a different strain of the parasite with upward of 60 varying genes. According to Bloomberg:

"The group found that the malaria parasite swaps genes during sex to create new variants that can evade the immune system and re-infect the same people, much like influenza can.

The finding of distinctly different strains in infected children — as many as 10 at once — means that even small human populations in malaria-endemic areas are constantly being infected with the parasite, said [study author Karen] Day, a professor of population science and dean of science at the University of Melbourne."

She compared malaria to influenza (another disease against which vaccines have a dismal record of effectiveness), except "much more complicated," noting there could be thousands of different strains. According to Day, the vaccine would need to be 100 percent effective against all malaria strains in order to work; otherwise "it can persist and bounce back to pre-control levels."

Day's work also revealed that malaria may not be transmitted as easily as once thought, causing perhaps only five or six secondary infections instead of dozens. "This suggests malaria isn't as difficult a foe to control as previously thought," Bloomberg noted, which suggests efforts to find effective ways to control mosquitoes may be all the more important.

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