Malaria Vaccine? Genetic Engineering Turns Parasite Into Vaccine Candidate

Monday, January 5, 2015

Malaria is one of the Great Diseases. This mosquito-borne illness killed some 627,000 people in 2012, most of them children in sub-Saharan Africa. Efforts in the last decade have cut mortality rates for the disease by an impressive 45 percent, but malaria continues to be a massive public health burden wherever it persists.

A team of scientists at Seattle BioMed is making progress on developing a genetically engineered version of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparumthat could act as a vaccine.

The logic behind this approach is rooted in the origins of vaccines, which trace to 1,000 C.E., when the Chinese used scabs and pus from smallpox sufferers to infect healthy people. It may sound insane, but these artificially induced infections were often less severe than those that occurred naturally, and—this is key—once these people had survived their induced infection, they were immune.

Our immune system remembers. Indeed its entire function is based on its ability to recognize pathogens. It has a strong intrinsic ability to recognize intruders and attack them, but the multitude of potential invaders—bacteria, viruses, parasites—have ways to circumvent our defenses. Intruders get in, get established and we get sick while the immune system mounts a proper defense.

Source: Genetic Literacy Project (link opens in a new window)

Health Care