Scientists have come up with a novel twist in the battle against malaria: Use humans to infect mosquitoes.
The researchers from the National Institutes of Health developed a vaccine that prompted lab mice to produce antibodies against Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria.
When mosquitoes fed on the blood of the mice, they took in the antibodies, which then targeted the parasites inside the mosquitoes' digestive tracts.
The parasites were eliminated before they could move to the salivary glands of the mosquitoes and be transmitted through bites, the researchers reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
If a human vaccine could be developed and widely administered, whole populations of mosquitoes in a particular area could be rendered harmless in a matter of months.
"This is a very reasonable approach," said Dr. Owen M. Rennert of the NIH's National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, which conducted the research. "I think it has a shot at being an answer."
To create the mouse vaccine, the researchers used a method known as conjugate technology, which links molecules to make them recognizable to the immune system.
Malaria kills more than 1 million children a year. There have been many attempts to create a vaccine against the form of the parasite that resides in humans, but the microorganism hides in liver and blood cells.