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New DNA vaccine promotes immune response in some people

graphic October 15, 1998
Web posted at: 4:40 p.m. EDT (2040 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen

ATLANTA (CNN) -- In a breakthrough discovery, Navy researchers have used a vaccine containing DNA to help prevent malaria.

A team from the Naval Medical Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland, announced Thursday that its scientists have tested the DNA vaccine in healthy humans with some success.

The research team's study is the first published article demonstrating that a DNA vaccine can elicit an immune response in healthy humans.

The Navy researchers gave the vaccine to 20 healthy people. Eleven developed an immune response to malaria, according to the Navy's Dr. William Rogers.

However, researchers said this immune response would probably not be enough to protect the subjects from getting malaria.

The hope is that a more potent vaccine -- to be tested next year -- would keep people from getting ill.

Robert Zaugg, vice-president of Vical Inc., the company that makes the malaria vaccine used in the study said a malaria DNA vaccine could be on the market in the year 2005 at the earliest.

The vaccine includes genes found in the DNA of malaria that are then injected into people. Muscle cells then absorb the DNA and cells start releasing proteins that trigger an immune response that scientist hope will protect from malaria.

An article on the Navy research appears in the October 16 issue of the medical journal Science. The purpose of the study was to establish the safety of the vaccine.

This is not the first time a DNA vaccine has been used on people. Early studies have shown some success using a DNA vaccine for the flu, and other vaccines have slowed the progression of cancer.

Scientists are also working on DNA vaccines for AIDS, tuberculosis, rabies and herpes.

DNA vaccines appear to be safe and less expensive than traditional vaccines.

Researchers say people who receive the DNA vaccines will not pass on genetic material to their offspring.

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