A trial involving more than 1,400 children in Mozambique has given experts hope they can create a vaccine against malaria, which kills over a million people worldwide each year, mainly in Africa.
The results of the study were reported Tuesday at an international malaria conference that has drawn some 1,500 scientists, health workers and politicians to Cameroon.
The study showed a malaria vaccine offered partial protection to young children for up to 18 months while cutting the risk of severe malaria by 49 percent.
"The unprecedented response demonstrated in this study is further evidence that an effective vaccine to help control the malaria pandemic ... is very possible," Pedro Alonso, head of the Center for International Health at the Hospital Clinic of the University of Barcelona, said in a statement.
Researchers have been working on a malaria vaccine for more than 20 years, but until now none of the candidates showed promise.
In the study in Mozambique, 1,442 children were administered a three-dose regimen of the vaccine in 2003 and were followed to assess the safety and efficiency of the vaccine.
Specialists agree that, at least for the foreseeable future, there is no prospect of a vaccine that would wipe out malaria like the smallpox vaccine did for smallpox, or even provide lifelong immunity.
But a vaccine that would turn the disease into a mostly mild infection would make a huge dent in the effort to control malaria, which kills a child every 30 seconds and poses a threat to half of all people on the planet.
About 500 million episodes of malaria occur every year, mostly in the developing world. It is the leading killer of children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa.
Malaria is caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes.