Berlin: A team of German scientists may have discovered a "needle-free" malaria vaccine by combining antibiotics with malaria-infected mosquitoes - effectively using mosquitoes themselves as "syringes".
If successful, the new treatment could dramatically reduce the nearly one million deaths caused from malaria every year. The treatment is not aimed at travellers, because it protects against the disease once it is already contracted, but has positive implications for those living in endemic areas.
Rather than attempting to protect against all mosquito bites like malaria prevention methods such as the utilization of bed nets, this treatment uses the infection as part of the solution in combination with antibiotics.
The idea behind the study by the researchers, findings of which were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, was to "combine a classical prophylaxis aspect - which is antibiotic treatment - (that travellers use to protect themselves against
malaria) - together with a natural exposure," according to a news release from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin.
Institute scientist Kai Matuschewski and his research team infected mice with sporozoites released from the malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The sporozoites migrated to the liver where they replicated abundantly and matured to the disease-causing blood stage cells called merozoites.
However, in this study, although the merozoites continued to develop in the liver, the antibiotics prevented them from actually entering red blood cells, which disabled the onset of malaria symptoms.
"The mosquito is our sort of syringe that delivers the pathogen and we stop the parasite from growing in the liver through antibiotic prophylaxis," Matuschewski wrote.
Not only did the mice not get sick from this treatment, but subsequent trials that eventually did not include the addition of antibiotics revealed that the mice developed long-term immunity.
The antibiotics used in the study were clindamycin and azithromycin, both generic drugs that are cheap and readily available -- good news for poorer countries.
Due to the availability of the generic drugs, Matuschewski and his research team are hopeful that clinical trials can begin in sub-Saharan Africa by the start of next summer.
While the findings are promising, scientists are careful to point out that their research constitutes just one component of the many factors needed to fight the disease and end deaths from malaria.