The techniques used by the Covid-19 vaccines to help bring an end to the pandemic have been researched for years. Now that we’re turning a corner, it seems like we’ve got more to look forward to.
The first vaccine to fight the malaria parasite uses self-amplifying RNA, similar to the messenger RNA in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, with the added bonus of being cheaper and easier to distribute.
Making a vaccine for malaria is challenging because its associated parasite, Plasmodium, contains a protein that inhibits production of memory T-cells, which protect against previously encountered pathogens. If the body can’t generate these cells, a vaccine is ineffective. But scientists recently tried a new approach using an RNA-based platform.
Their design circumvented the sneaky protein, allowed the body to produce the needed T-cells and completely immunized against malaria. The patent application for their novel vaccine, which hasn’t yet been tested on humans, was published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on Feb. 4.
“It’s probably the highest level of protection that has been seen in a mouse model,” said Richard Bucala, co-inventor of the new vaccine and a physician and professor at Yale School of Medicine.
Even before the pandemic, mRNA was being researched as a vector for combatting parasitic diseases. Now it looks like mRNA might be able to help fight sickle cell and AIDS as well. A year ago, there were no mRNA drugs in the world, other than some lab trials; now it’s one of the more promising technologies for fighting all manner of disease.
Katalin Karikó, who persisted for over two decades to make mRNA therapeutics viable, should be as celebrated as Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk.