Scientists create malaria vaccine from algae

Biologists at the University of California - San Diego have created a genetically-engineered algae that produces possible candidates for a malaria vaccine.

If such a procedure is effective on a large scale, the achievement could lead to the inexpensive manufacturing of a malaria vaccine to protect billions of people from the deadly disease. The scientists used algae to generate malaria proteins that elicited antibodies against malaria-causing Plasmodium falciparum in laboratory mice, Science Daily reports.

Vaccines created by engineered bacteria are simple proteins that stimulate the body's immune system to create antibodies against bacteria. More complex proteins that resemble those made by the malaria parasite, typically require an expensive mammalian cell culture process.

"Malaria is caused by a parasite that makes complex proteins, but for whatever reason this parasite doesn't put sugars on those proteins," Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology at UC San Diego and the leader of the research effort, said, according to Science Daily. "If you have a protein covered with sugars and you inject it into somebody as a vaccine, the tendency is to make antibodies against the sugars, not the amino acid backbone of the protein from the invading organism you want to inhibit. Researchers have made vaccines without these sugars in bacteria and then tried to refold them into the correct three-dimensional configuration, but that's an expensive proposition and it doesn't work very well."

The biologists instead used an edible green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, that has been shown to have the ability to manufacture many complex human therapeutic proteins. The researchers found that the proteins produced by the algae blocked malaria transmission from mosquitoes.

"It's hard to say if these proteins are perfect, but the antibodies to our algae-produced protein recognize the native proteins in malaria and, inside the mosquito, block the development of the malaria parasite so that the mosquito can't transmit the disease," James Gregory, a researcher in Mayfield's laboratory, said, according to Science Daily.

The next step will be to determine if the algae proteins are effective at protecting humans from malaria. Malaria is a disease borne by mosquitoes that affects more than 225 million people worldwide and can lead to headaches, fever, coma and death.