December 10, 2022

A malaria vaccine could make the disease worse

So much money invested in a cure for cancer; so little into a cure for malaria. This is the scenario which is sometimes used as a stick to beat a one-eyed focus on the health of baby-boomers in the developing world.

So much money invested in a cure for cancer; so little into a cure for malaria. This is the scenario which is sometimes used as a stick to beat a one-eyed focus on the health of baby-boomers in the developing world. But finding a cure for the mosquito-borne disease is more difficult than it might seem.

According to an article in PLoS Biology, a malaria vaccine could drive the evolution of even more virulent pathogens.  Andrew Read, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State University, points out that malaria parasites which escape the effects of a vaccine evolve to dodge an attack by the immune system.

When this theory was tested on mice who had beome immune by natural infection, the parasites did become more virulent. “The parasites get nastier when we evolve them through vaccinated mice,” says Read. “They do more damage in unvaccinated mice after evolving through the vaccinated ones.”

However, Read stresses that the results may not be the same in humans. “We don’t know what might happen,” he says. “My point is we need to figure it out.” ~ New Scientist, July 31

BELOW: Andrew Read on the evolution of malaria parasites

Michael Cook
Creative commons
developing world health
malaria
public health