Melbourne: A team of Australian researchers are a step closer to finding a vaccine to prevent malaria, after discovering patterns in the human immune system that help fight the disease in its early stages.
The team from the Burnet Institute in Melbourne collaborated with universities from Australia, Britain and Africa to develop the research over a 10-year period, Xinhua news agency reported.
The study, published in the medical journal Immunity, concluded that the human immune system can trigger a response that calls upon proteins in red blood cells, and the head of the Burnet Institute's biomedical research centre, James Beeson, said that this development could be used in creating a vaccine for the disease.
"The immune system needs to produce specific antibodies and they are proteins that the immune system produces that combat infections," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Wednesday.
"Those antibodies recognise the malaria infection or parasites as we call them. Then they need to recruit these other proteins that are in the bloodstream, known as complement proteins.
"And then the two together -- the antibodies and the complement -- perform a double hit on the malaria infection and stop it from getting inside red blood cells, and therefore stopping the infection and the subsequent disease.
"We're hoping that this new knowledge opens up a new strategy to generate or develop highly effective vaccines."
Researchers have been seeking a vaccine for the disease for decades, but this natural development in the human immune system brings the chances of a vaccine that much closer.
Malaria is one of the world's biggest killers. In Africa alone, more than 600,000 people die of this each year, and Beeson said the research was a huge step towards eliminating the disease worldwide.
"Despite recent advances in malaria control and prevention globally, it remains a huge burden and a vaccine is desperately needed," he said in a statement.
Beeson said that a "double blow" knockout punch was required to kill the disease, as malaria can adapt to fight off drugs used to treat it.
He said the results were encouraging, but there was much work still to be done.
"There are still a number of questions to address before we can develop a highly effective vaccine," he said.