Although the malaria parasite was discovered more than 120 years ago, it is only during the past 20 years, following the cloning of malaria genes, that we have been able to think rationally about vaccine design and development. Effective vaccines for malaria could interrupt the life cycle of the parasite at different stages in the human host or in the mosquito. The purpose of this review is to outline the challenges we face in developing a vaccine that will limit growth of the parasite during the stage within red blood cells - the stage responsible for all the symptoms and pathology of malaria. More than 15 vaccine trials have either been completed or are in progress, and many more are planned. Success in current trials could lead to a vaccine capable of saving more than 2 million lives per year.