Science, Science and Tech

Great Hopes for New Malaria Vaccine

Malaria is one of the world’s deadliest diseases with millions of cases worldwide each year, many of which are fatal. Though the majority of cases are found in Africa it is also prevalent in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. The chances of surviving the disease are made even worse by the lack of medical treatment available to many sufferers, who are living in the developing world. Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, working with the support of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) of the charity PATH, have produced a new vaccine which trials suggest could half the risk of an infant contracting Malaria.


If further testing produces successful results then the vaccine could go into use from 2016. Currently the vaccine, called RTS, has been tested on 15,000 children in Africa. Half of the group were aged between 6 to 12 weeks and the other half were between 5 and 17 months. Fifty percent of the children were given the vaccine and the other fifty percent were given a placebo, although other precautions, such as sleeping under mosquito nets, were also taken by all children where possible. One year after the vaccination was first administered there was a reduction in cases in both age groups; 56% in the older age group and 31% in the younger age group.

Following on from this, after 18 months there were 46% fewer cases in the older group and 27% fewer in the younger group, suggesting that the effectiveness of the vaccine could reduce with time. In an effort to combat this boosters were given 20 months after the initial vaccine to a third of the children to see if this brings the effectiveness of the vaccination back up to the original levels.

The children will continue to be monitored for a total of 41 months after the vaccines administration, however the current positive results have led to GlaxoSmithKline starting plans to submit a regulatory application to the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Researchers have predicted that the vaccine has the potential to prevent 941 children per 1000 vaccinated in the older age group and 444 in the younger age group from contracting malaria.

A large-scale survey by researchers at University College London has found that one person in every 2000 in the UK may be carrying abnormal proteins associated with variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD). The results, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), show that the proteins are carried by twice as many people as previously thought.

CJD is one of a number of diseases caused by misfolded proteins – called prions – that interfere with the body’s own proteins. Build-up of these proteins progressively kills the brain’s nerve cells, forming small holes and giving the brain a sponge-like appearance. Initial symptoms of the disease are psychological, but patients develop problems with walking and talking as the disease progresses. Life expectancy once the first symptoms have appeared is around six months.

The vCJD type is related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – or ‘mad cow disease’. This form is thought to be linked to the consumption of infected meat before tough controls were introduced in 1996. However, in 2004 its transmission was also confirmed through blood transfusions. While screening blood donations for the presence of vCJD is not yet available, the development of such tests must be a priority, according to Dr Graham Jackson of the MRC Prion Unit at UCL. He said: “It is now crucial we establish how many people in the UK harbour that infection in their bloodstream in order to adequately assess the risks of ransmission through contaminated blood donations.” Professor Azra Ghani, professor of infectious disease modelling at Imperial College London, said the findings highlight the need for continued surveillance of the disease and that current preventative measures should be maintained.

But Professor David Brown, professor of biochemistry at the University of Bath, warns against misinterpretation of the findings, which relate to carriers of abnormal proteins, not how many people will develop the disease. Brown, a former member of the UK government’s BSE advisory board, SEAC, notes: “The presence of the abnormal protein in the appendix does not confirm an individual will develop vCJD. Therefore this result does not indicate that 1 in 2000 people carry vCJD, and it could just be down to people who (for some other reason) carry the abnormal protein in their appendix.”

Scientific experts are spearheading a campaign to persuade several major retailers to remove the alternative health magazine What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You from their shelves after a series of articles were published promoting non evidence based treatments for diseases such as cancer and AIDS.

The publication, which began as a newsletter in 1989, was launched last year as a monthly magazine urging readers to “take control of your own health”, however several doctors and scientists have claimed the title contains misleading and potentially dangerous health advice. In particular, the headline ‘Mega-cure for the incurables: Vitamin C fights it all, from measles to AIDS’ has attracted criticism. Lisa Power, Policy Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “The claims made by this magazine about vitamin C are quackery. You can eat as many oranges as you like, but – if you have HIV – nothing will manage the virus other than your prescribed medication. We are shocked that major retailers continue to stock a magazine that carries such dangerous advice, and would urge them to have a serious rethink.”

In addition to these articles, the magazine is also under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after a series of adverts within the magazine were seen to breach the agencys CAP code with regards to inaccurate and misleading claims. The Nightingale Collaboration, which aims to challenge misleading claims in healthcare advertising, submitted complaints regarding 26 adverts from the September and October 2012 issues alone.

Editor Lynne McTaggart has insisted her magazine aims only to give consumers ‘’the other side of the story’’. In an email sent out to subscribers, What Doctors Don’t Tell You attacked The Times newspaper for their coverage of the story, denied making any claims of cures, and condemned the mainstream media and scientific organizations for attempting ‘’censorship of information’’. In a Facebook response to Tom Whipple, the journalist responsible for the Times article, the magazine accused its critics of aligning with pharmaceutical companies in an attempt to ‘’kill a publication critical of that industry’’.

Tesco customer services have responded to complaints by refusing to comment on the contents of the magazine. However, Waitrose have now withdrawn the title from sale due to ‘’customer feedback’’.


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