Solving Malaria with pain-free needles: why are we not funding this?

A recent study in the UK demonstrated how a Malaria vaccine could be possible with the use of microneedles, a cheaper and pain-free vaccination method. But what’s the point of developing a Malaria vaccine when the current health prevention efforts are already working? 

The problem and the solution (so far)

Malaria is a deadly disease caused by parasites transferred through mosquito bites, which mainly affects young children in third-world countries. However, the World Health Organisation cites that 4 countries have successfully eliminated Malaria by simply using cheap and easy-to-use mosquito nets and insecticides. There are solutions out there, but a successful vaccine would be even better at Malaria prevention, as they are long-term and convenient.

A new solution

A vaccine encourages the patient’s immune system to create their own defence against the disease-causing agent, which in this case is the parasite P. falciparum. Being vaccinated means permanent protection for the body, compared to the temporary effect of insecticide sprays and mosquito nets.

Another benefit of a vaccine is that the current “solutions” could be future problems; some research found that the P. falciparum parasite is showing resistance to insecticides.

The current state of a “candidate” Malaria vaccine doesn’t fully protect patients against the disease, but recent research could be a game-changer, and perhaps we shouldn’t lose hope in developing better vaccines.

Jumping the first hurdle: the anti-vector response

The small microneedle patch is cheaper and more effective than vaccinating with syringes. Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

The small microneedle patch is cheaper and more effective than vaccinating with syringes.
Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

The main problem that faces a suitable Malaria vaccine is that the body’s attacking the wrong part of the vaccine, called the vector. The vector in this case is a non-aggressive virus which delivers a part of the Malaria parasite, called an antigen.

The researchers at University College Cork in the UK demonstrated that they can avoid this “anti-vector” response by injecting the vaccine with a microneedle patch. These tiny patches have microscopic silicon needles that painlessly inject the vaccine a few layers deep in the skin.

In this “modelling” experiment, where the researchers used an antigen that is similar to a Malaria-based antigen, the vaccine was successful on mice. It also demonstrated how the microneedle injection could prevent the anti-vector response, because the mice’s immune cells were attacking the antigen more than the virus vector.

How can we benefit from microneedles?

The study’s results could also affect the “first world”, as microneedles are showing positive results in real-life, clinical studies for other vaccines.

As John B. Carey and others at University College Cork explain in the paper, microneedle patches create a stronger immune response because the vaccine is a few layers deep in the skin, where there are more immune cells compared to the deeper muscle layers. The small size of these easy-to-use patches also means saving thousands on vaccine storage, administration, and disposal.

What do you think?

Microneedle patches could mean the end to painful and expensive needle vaccinations for patients in third-world countries.   Source: Flikr via Creative Commons

Microneedle patches could mean the end to painful and expensive needle vaccinations for patients in third-world countries.
Source: Flikr via Creative Commons

Funding research on Malaria vaccines may seem wasteful and hopeless, but it could open new avenues in disease prevention, and potentially save even more lives.

You can read the open-access research report here  and make up your own mind.

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One Response to Solving Malaria with pain-free needles: why are we not funding this?

  1. Pingback: Malaria: Searching for a vaccine | Herpes Survival Kit

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