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There is no vaccine for malaria approved for use in humans; however, scientists are working on developing an effective vaccine. Up to this point, most of the research has focused on Plasmodium falciparum, which causes the most serious form of malaria. An effective vaccine would be a critical component to aid in the control of the disease, which is a leading cause of death in many developing countries.

Malaria Vaccine: An Overview

At this time, there is no approved vaccine for malaria. However, research scientists all over the world are working on developing an effective vaccine. Because other methods of fighting malaria, including drugs, insecticides, and bed nets, have not succeeded in eliminating the disease, the search for a vaccine is considered one of the most important research projects concerning public health.

The Challenges of Developing a Vaccine

Malaria research scientists have been trying to develop an effective vaccine for more than 50 years. To date, most research has focused on developing an effective vaccine against Plasmodium falciparum, which causes the most serious form of malaria. There have been two main challenges with this. First, the malaria parasite is a complex organism with a complicated life cycle. Four species of malaria parasites infect people:
  • Plasmodium vivax
  • Plasmodium ovale
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Plasmodium malariae.
Each of these four species is composed of a number of strains that are genetically different. These strains have four different stages once the parasite infects the body, and the antigens (which are what the body targets to kill the parasite) also differ.
The second challenge involved in developing a malaria vaccine is that scientists do not yet fully understand the complex immune responses that protect humans against the disease.
Therefore, in order to be effective, a vaccine for malaria must account for the genetic diversity of both the parasite and the human host, and provide effective immunity against different life cycle stages.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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