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Toxin Trumped: New malaria vaccine protects mice

If you can't kill a deadly enemy, disarming it is your next best option. That's the rationale behind an experimental vaccine that neutralizes a toxic molecule made by malaria-causing parasites. The vaccine protects mice from the most dangerous symptoms of the disease, Louis Schofield of the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia and his colleagues report in the Aug. 15 Nature.

Investigators have long struggled to develop a vaccine that can prevent people from becoming infected with the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The new vaccine, however, doesn't confer immunity to the mosquitoborne parasite.

The vaccine consists of a harmless piece of a natural molecule, called glycosylphosphatidylinositol or GPI, that's formed from sugars and lipids.

Schofield contends that the full-length GPI made by P. falciparum acts as a toxin and is responsible for most of the deadly aspects of malaria.

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