Irish scientists develop improved malaria vaccine

Dr. Anne Moore displays the microneedle patch

Scientists at University College Cork in Ireland have successfully finished pre-clinical testing of an experimental vaccine against malaria delivered through the skin. The method is an improvement on this type of vaccine delivery, whose use is being researched in relation to other infections as well, including Ebola and HIV.

To make the vaccine, the team used a live adenovirus similar to the virus that causes the common cold. It was engineered to be safer and produce the same protein as the parasite that causes malaria. Adenoviruses are one of the most powerful vaccine platforms scientists have tested, the researchers say in a press statement. The one they used produced strong immunity responses to the malaria antigen with lower doses of the vaccine.

To deliver the vaccine into the body, the researchers used a skin patch with arrays of tiny silicon microneedles that painlessly create temporary pores. It's similar to the array used by researchers at King's College in London, who are also developing new vaccines.

The pores provide an entry point for the vaccine to flow into the skin, as the patch dissolves and releases the drug. If the system is later attacked by the target virus, it will be able to release the related protein to block the infection.

The research showed that the administration of the vaccine with the microneedle patch solves a shortcoming related to this type of vaccine, which is inducing immunity to the viral vector – that is, to the vaccine itself. By overcoming this obstacle, the logistics and costs of vaccination could be simpler and cheaper as it would not require boosters to be made with different strains. Besides, with no needles or pain involved, there's bigger potential to reach more people requiring inoculation.

Lead researcher, Dr. Anne Moore, is set to negotiate with Silicon Valley investors and technology companies to commercialize the vaccine.

Details of the research appeared in the journal Nature.

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