Scientists itching to develop a new malaria vaccine have turned to an unlikely method of injection — by using a box full of mosquitoes to vaccinate people, according to a report.
“We use the mosquitoes like they’re 1,000 small flying syringes,” Dr. Sean Murphy, a University of Washington physician, said in a recent paper in Science Translational Medicine discussing the trials.
One of the test subjects told NPR that she put her arm over a box that looked like “a Chinese food takeout container” and let herself get bit by at least 200 mosquitoes inside.
“My whole forearm swelled and blistered,” says Reid. “My family was laughing, asking like, ‘why are you subjecting yourself to this?’”
In the clinical trial, the pests deliver genetically modified, malaria-causing Plasmodium parasites that prevent the subjects from being infected, NPR reported.
The body produces antibodies against the weakened parasite so it’s prepared to fight the serious and sometimes fatal disease, according to the report.
Mosquitoes, which have been used before in similar clinical trials, will not be used to actually jab millions of people, noted Murphy.
The University of Washington team decided to use the critters because it is expensive and time-consuming to use needles to deliver a weakened parasite during the proof-of-concept stage of the trial, NPR reported.
“They went old school with this one,” Dr. Kirsten Lyke, a physician and vaccine researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who was not involved in the study, told the outlet.
“All things old become new again,” added Lyker, who called the use of a genetically modified live parasite “a total game changer” in the development of vaccines.
The small trial, which included 26 people, showed that the modified parasites protected some of them from infection for a few months, according to NPR.
The world’s first malaria jab — GlaxoSmithKline’s RTS,S — was approved by the World Health Organization last year to be used in Africa, but only has an efficacy rate of 30% to 40%.
The University of Washington researchers hope to improve the efficacy of their vaccine by putting it into syringes instead of using mosquitoes so they can get the dosage right for longer protection.