Maine university conducting research on anti-malarial bacteriophages

A team of scientists from the University of Southern Maine said that it is on track to develop a better anti-malaria vaccine by genetically modifying viruses to attack the malaria parasite.

The team, made up of mostly graduate students led by Dr. Monroe Duboise, is conducting pioneering research with microscopic bacteriophages - viruses that are able to infect bacteria. They hope to add genome sequences to the genetic code of the bacteriophages in order to equip them to attack malaria parasites, according to

Current malaria treatments are often complicated to produce and are only effective during the initial stages of infection, but the new technique, if successful, could give bacteriophages a variety of adaptations that could be used to combat the parasites during multiple phases.

Duboise said that an anti-malaria vaccine based on bacteriophages would be relatively easy to produce in comparison to current vaccines, and their adaptability would allow scientists to keep up with the ability of the malaria parasites to quickly develop resistance to treatments.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced that Duboise's team is a winner in its Grand Challenges Explorations Program, which allocates prizes of $100,000 for project proposals and up to $1 million in additional funding based on the progress of the research. The grant money is expected to cover 18 months of research on bacteriophages.

"We want to produce good vaccine prototypes during that [18 months], then move on to further testing," Duboise said, reports. "Malaria is an important target, but this model of vaccine development could be used for many other things."