Fight begins to eradicate fatal parasite; first vaccines delivered following major funding award.
A vaccine developed by University of Melbourne researchers that could eradicate a fatal form of brain disease will be delivered to Peru next week, and could soon be commercially available thanks to multi-million dollar funding.
The parasite Taenia solium causes 50 million tapeworm infections and 50,000 deaths from brain disease in the developing world each year. A major cash injection from the British Government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation means that the vaccine will be registered and be produced on a commercial scale.
Although tapeworms can grow up to metres long and live in humans for years without health implications, their eggs can travel to the brain and cause paralysis and the often fatal condition of neurocysticercosis.
The disease results in cysts on the brain and spinal column, which is the most common cause of acquired epilepsy in the developing world and more than half the world's population living in countries where the parasite is endemic.
Professor Marshall Lightowlers at the Faculty of Veterinary Science has been striving towards the parasite's eradication for almost 30 years.
"I'm in a very lucky position that a lot of people dream and talk about, but virtually nobody reaches," said Professor Lightowlers.
"This disease has been identified as one that could be eradicated from the globe, so this is a very significant hurdle which means the end is well and truly in sight."
Five field trials were carried out in Peru, Cameroon, Mexico and Honduras between 2006 and 2008. All five trials achieved greater than 99% success.
The field trials have proved so successful that the team has been asked to provide 210,000 doses of the vaccine for a separate US$15.7m project funded by the Gates Foundation in Northern Peru, with the first of these doses arriving next week.
|Contact: Nerissa Hannink|
University of Melbourne