Dutch researchers discover way to give complete protection against malaria

29 July 2009

The prospects for an effective vaccine for malaria are considerably better since the discovery that healthy volunteers can be fully protected against malaria. The finding was made by researchers from the Medical Centre of the Radboud University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands and published in the New England Journal of Medicine [1].

Malaria is one of the most deadly infections in the world. More than a million people die from it every year, mostly in Africa. The victims are predominantly young children who have yet to develop protective immunity to the disease.

The search for a vaccine that stimulates the immune system sufficiently well to confer strong protection against the malaria parasite has been going on for decades already. The availability of such a vaccine would represent a huge breakthrough in the fight against malaria, but none exists yet.

In a matter of only a few months, the researchers in Nijmegen, led by Professor Robert Sauerwein, managed to successfully induce full protection against malaria in healthy Dutch volunteers.

The volunteers were infected with malaria parasites while taking a course of the malaria drug chloroquine. In this way the parasites induced a strong immune response but the volunteers did not get sick.

After a few months their immunity was tested and proven to be highly effective: they were given another infection and none became sick. The research team also revealed that a powerful group of immune cells, so-called multifunctional T cells, play an important role in this protective response.

We now have the proof that it is possible to induce complete protection against malaria efficiently. The findings will be an important guide on the path towards the development of a new and much needed vaccine for malaria.

1. Meta Roestenburg et al. Protection against a Malaria Challenge by Sporozoite Inoculation. The New England Journal of Medicine, 361;5, July 30, 2009.

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