Tokyo, May 7 (Reuters): Researchers at a Japanese university have developed a possible vaccine for malaria and plan to begin safety tests on laboratory animals next month, a professor who heads the team said today.
“It could become the first malaria vaccine to come into practical use,” said Toshihiro Horii, a professor at Osaka University’s Research Institute for Microbial Diseases in western Japan.
Horii added, however, that it was likely take at least six or seven years until the vaccine was ready for general use.
Malaria kills more than a million people every year, mostly young children in Africa, but there is still no effective vaccine against the disease.
It is caused by a tiny parasite that is transmitted by the bite of a female mosquito. The disease causes fever, muscle stiffness, sweating and shaking.
The vaccine to be tested by Horii’s group is based on a protein called Serine Repeat Antigen (Sera), which is produced by Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria.
In test-tube experiments, antibodies against Sera that were developed and taken from mice killed the parasite, Horii said.
Studies conducted since 1995 by Horii’s group in Uganda found that people did not show symptoms of malaria such as fever if they already had high amounts of antibodies against Sera, even if they were infected with the malaria parasite, Horii said.
“Sera is the Achilles heel of the malaria parasite,” said Horii, adding that the idea was to vaccinate people by injecting them with an artificially produced version of Sera so they would develop antibodies against the protein.
Horii said around 20,000 units of the test vaccines were now being produced at a health ministry-approved facility, and that safety tests would begin in June.
If those tests, which are expected to last around a year, succeed, they would be followed by human safety tests in Japan. Horii said he would then aim to start trials on humans in regions affected by malaria such as Africa or South East Asia in 2005.