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Sequestration puts malaria vaccine trial in jeopardy

No buzz is heard.  But you can almost feel the vibration of 10,000 mosquitoes.Instinctively, you scratch, even though no insect is freely flying.The females are attracted to body heat to feed on blood – and in about a minute create a macabre hand art inside this bucket.

Welcome to the mosquito insectary at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.  It’s where insects are grown and vaccines are developed.

Scientists here want to create the first malaria vaccine the world has known – to protect U.S. soldiers in malaria-prone countries.  Drug companies would produce the vaccine and extend its protection to half the world’s population that lives in countries where malaria is present.

But, officials say the mandatory budget cuts, called sequestration, will affect further testing of a potentially cutting-edge malaria vaccine, soon to be published.

Colonel Michael Kozar directs the military’s infectious disease research.

“Without funding to actually conduct the trial, it will delay development of that vaccine,” said Colonel Kozar. “It will delay us getting an answer to determining if this is a real breakthrough or just a fluke.”

Kozar says sequestration will cut about one and a half billion dollars from research and development.  He says for the labs here at Walter Reed, that’s about a 10 percent reduction, which could take some labs down to maintenance, not research.

Research at Walter Reed depends on volunteers….who come into the lab regularly to get bitten on purpose.

For vaccine trials, each volunteer is given a cup filled with five malaria-infected mosquitoes.  They place their forearm over the cup.  The mosquitoes are given five minutes to feed.

Keenan Bailey volunteered for a recent trial.  He was vaccinated but still got malaria from the bites and was treated with medication.  He  worries about the upcoming budget cuts.

“It’s really defeating to see your contribution,  the research of that being delayed,” said Bailey.

The CDC says malaria causes 655,000 deaths annually, 8 out of 10 of those victims are children.  The researchers say their work might be for the military, but the benefit would be felt worldwide.

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