SCOTS scientists have achieved a significant milestone in the bid to produce a vaccine for malaria, after it was successfully tested on mice.
Researchers at Edinburgh University tested a prototype of a vaccine against the disease, which kills 600,000 people around the world every year.
They now hope to produce a vaccine which will be effective in humans, as many forms of the disease are becoming resistant to existing drugs.
A successful vaccine is difficult to produce as it must contain proteins which are present in the malaria parasite in order for the immune system to produce antibodies to fight the disease.
The malaria proteins have a complex chemical structure which is difficult to reproduce in a laboratory.
But the Edinburgh scientitsts have come up with a novel way of producing the malaria proteins.
They have grown them inside a tiny single-celled aquatic creature, whose biological make-up is similar to that of the malaria parasite.
It is hoped this technique will not only make a vaccine possible, but easy to produce in large quantities as the tiny creature can multiply quickly and recreate the protein.
A vaccine developed using these malaria proteins – known as MSP-1-BBM – enabled the immune system to produce antibodies in the bloodstream during tests on mice.
These antibodies were shown to respond to the human malaria parasite, indicating that the vaccine would be likely to trigger an immune reaction if it were used in people.
The study was published in the journal PLoS One and was funded by the European Union.
Dr David Cavanagh, an Immunology Lecturer at Edinburgh University who led the study, said: “There is a desperate need for an effective vaccine, which can be made easily in large quantities, to protect against this devastating disease.
“Our findings meet this challenge and, with more work, could lead to a vaccine to help those most at risk.”
Further tests will now take place to try and develop a vaccine which will be effective in humans.
Scientists say there is a pressing need for new treatments, as many forms of the disease are becoming resistant to existing drugs.
Children and pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa are particularly at risk from the tropical disease.