It’s World Malaria Day. There’s been great progress against malaria over the past decade but most experts agree the best hope is to find an effective vaccine. Seattle Biomed is one of the world leaders in malaria vaccine research, but testing these experimental vaccines relies on people volunteering to get the vaccine — and get bitten. What it’s like to get infected for science.
By Cyan James, special correspondent
“I’m going to get infected and I’m going to love it,” Lane Rasberry says with a smile.
Rasberry is about to spend at least five minutes with more than a dozen mosquitoes full of malaria parasites.
The mosquitoes huddle in a screened, pint-sized container, waiting for Rasberry to roll up his left sleeve, lay his forearm over the container, and drape a towel over his arm to simulate night. Then they launch, feeding on Lane until their breakfast clock runs out.
A Wikipedia editor by day, Rasberry also volunteers in a malaria vaccine trial at Seattle BioMed, where he belongs among a unique group of clinical subjects who intentionally get infected.
Why? For Rasberry, it’s because the research is both altruistic and convenient, and because it plays to his interest in science. “I actually enjoy participating,” he says, emphasizing research trials’ ability to create community and help others learn about scientific advances. Plus, since he grew up in Texas, the mosquitoes don’t really faze him.
After Rasberry’s five minutes are up, a technician dumps his mosquitoes into an ethanol bath to kill them, then flicks off the mosquitoes’ heads, presses their torsos to extrude their innards, and swiftly isolates their salivary glands.
The technician scans the tiny sickle-shaped glands under a microscope, searching for P. falciparum, the parasite that infects up to 500 million people with malaria every year and kills nearly two people every hour.