Seattle-based research scientist Stefan Kappe says mosquitoes are the most dangerous animals in the world. Kappe has spent his working life trying to figure out how this tiny malaria-carrying insect can inflict so much death and disease, and what he and his team can do to stop it.
Kappe's Seattle BioMed is a non-profit research institute that works on research to eliminate the world’s most devastating infectious diseases. It is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and around 500 other donors.
According to the World Health Organization, malaria kills a child every 45 seconds in Africa and costs that continent’s economy $12 billion a year.
Kappe, molecular biologist and expert in parasitology who trained first in Germany then the United States, has no doubt malaria will one day be wiped out across the world, but acknowledges it’s a tough fight.
“They are formidable little predators,” Kappe says as he looks through the mesh window on one of the mosquito bug dorms at his Seattle BioMed laboratory.
“They are uniquely adapted to take blood meals, and unfortunately infectious diseases have taken a ride along with this ability of the mosquito to bite you and take your blood."
RTS,S was recognized as the first effective malaria vaccine on Tuesday when scientists released data showing it halved the risk of children getting the disease in a large Africa trial.
“Right now malaria vaccine development stands at a very interesting point because we have a partially effective vaccine in RTS,S,” Kappe told Reuters.
Experts stressed that RTS,S will be no quick fix. At around a 50 percent protection rate, the new shot is less effective against malaria than other vaccines are against common infections like polio and measles.
“The RTS,S vaccine will always stand as the first really successful vaccine that can partially protect against malaria,” Kappe said. “But to eradicate the disease, and that is our goal, you need a vaccine that protects 90 to 100 percent. So we have to build on RTS,S.”