One Seattle morning, Carolina Reid sat in a room with nine other volunteers, each waiting to take part in a clinical trial for a new, experimental malaria vaccine.
Reid's turn came. She put her arm over a cardboard box filled with 200 mosquitoes and covered with a mesh that keeps them in but still lets them bite. "Literally a Chinese food takeout container" is how she remembers it. A scientist then covered her arm with a black cloth, because mosquitoes like to bite at night.
"My whole forearm swelled and blistered," says Reid. "My family was laughing, asking like, 'why are you subjecting yourself to this?'" And she didn't just do it once. She did it five times.
But it's not. "We use the mosquitoes like they're 1,000 small flying syringes," explains University of Washington, Seattle physician and scientist Dr. Sean Murphy, lead author on a paper in Science Translational Medicine released on August 24 detailing the vaccine trials.
The insects deliver live malaria-causing Plasmodium parasites that have been genetically modified to not get people sick. The body still makes antibodies against the weakened parasite so it's prepared to fight the real thing.