Toddlers' Blood Could Hold Key to Beating Malaria

New vaccine traps disease inside blood cells
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2014 10:33 AM CDT
Toddlers' Blood Could Hold Key to Beating Malaria
In this Friday, May 11, 2007 file photo, a mosquito is sorted according to species and gender at a lab in Dallas.   (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Researchers think they've found a promising new potential weapon in the fight against malaria in a fairly unlikely place: the blood of toddlers. In a paper published in Science today, researchers detail how they examined the blood of more than 750 children in Tanzania. They found that about 6% of those children had an antibody against one of the disease's key proteins, and that those children didn't suffer from severe malaria. Researchers think they can make a vaccine patterned on their blood, Paul Rodgers at Forbes explains.

Until now, most malaria vaccines have focused on keeping the disease out of the red blood cells it reproduces in. But this antibody is unique in that it instead attacks the protein that allows the parasite to escape the cells. "We're sort of trapping the parasite in the burning house," says co-lead author Jonathan Kurtis—who suffered his own bout of malaria while studying in Kenya while in college, NPR reports. The team believes this approach could work in concert with existing vaccines. It's a refreshing, promising idea, one Harvard doctor says, though she cautions that "this is a long way from a vaccine that can be used in humans." It's been trialed in mice and will soon be tested on monkeys. (More malaria stories.)

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