25/12/2015 10:42 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Malaria Vaccine Breakthrough In Australia As Scientists Discover Why Parasites Cause Self-Sabotaging Inflammation

Shutterstock / smuay

One mystery of the potentially deadly Malaria parasite has been solved as a group of Australian scientists discover why the body cannot mount a defense against it.

The finding, from researchers at Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, could improve malaria vaccines by boosting key immune cells needed for long-lasting immunity.

Malaria is an infection of the liver and red blood cells caused by microscopic parasites which can be passed on via a mosquito bite.

Research co-leader Dr Diana Hansen said malaria had some unusual quirks.

“With many infections, a single exposure to the pathogen is enough to induce production of antibodies that will protect you for the rest of your life,” Hansen said in a statement.

“However with malaria it can take up to 20 years for someone to build up sufficient immunity to be protected.

"During that time people exposed to malaria are susceptible to reinfection and become sick many times, as well as spreading the disease.”

Hansen's research showed the same inflammatory molecules that drove the immune response in severe malaria also prevented the body from developing protective antibodies, like it does with other parasites.

“We have now shown that it was a double-edged sword: the strong inflammatory reaction that accompanies and in fact drives severe clinical malaria is also responsible for silencing the key immune cells needed for long-term protection against the parasite,” Hansen said.