Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cerebral malaria

“Scientists are making strides against cerebral malaria, a fatal form of malaria in children that can ravage the brain and is extremely difficult to treat.” Cerebral malaria causes inflammation in the brain, which leads to “the obstruction of blood vessels” and results in brain damage. “New research points to platelets -- known for their role in blood clotting -- as playing an important role in the disease, stimulating the immune system and turning on molecules that increase inflammation.”

Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center conducted this study as “part of an ongoing effort to better understand the origin and development of cerebral malaria, which predominantly affects children under the age of 10 living in malaria-endemic areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa.”

"Malaria is a complex disease and we need to look at it from every possible angle, focusing on both vaccine research and basic research, as we've done in this study," said Craig Morrell, D.V.M., Ph.D., assistant professor within the Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Medical Center and lead author of the study. "Our findings increase our knowledge of cerebral malaria and suggest that targeting platelets may prove to be a viable intervention strategy."

Malaria is responsible for approximately 1 million deaths each year. 250-500 million people are afflicted with malaria annually, yet malaria is treatable. Efforts to eradicate malaria are being made internationally. “While research efforts are mainly focused on vaccine development, new therapies to treat malaria are needed, as the parasite that causes malaria -- Plasmodium falciparum -- is becoming resistant to current treatments.”

Morrell's team studies “the development and progression of cerebral malaria, with the goal finding new ways to intervene and treat the disease.” Malaria occurs when the specific parasite infects red blood cells. These infected “blood cells activate platelets, which secrete a key protein…whose job it is to protect against foreign intruders -- in this case, the malaria parasite -- by turning on pro-inflammatory cells, known as monocytes. Monocytes contribute to the inflammation in the blood vessels that leads to obstructions in the brain.”

This study has shown scientists that “the role of platelets is more complex than they initially thought. Ongoing research will focus on when to intervene and influence the activity of platelets, as timing has been found to make a marked difference in the outcome. Additionally, scientists at Rochester are collaborating with researchers from Johns Hopkins University to look at drugs that are approved for the treatment of other conditions to see if they might be effective in treating cerebral malaria.”


Kalyan Srivastava, David J. Field, Angela Aggrey, Munekazu Yamakuchi, Craig N. Morrell, Pieter H. Reitsma. Platelet Factor 4 Regulation of Monocyte KLF4 in Experimental Cerebral Malaria. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (5): e10413 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010413

University of Rochester Medical Center (2010, June 1). Cerebral malaria: Scientists advance understanding of deadly form of malaria in children. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 2, 2010, from¬ /releases/2010/06/100601114639.htm

Photo from Davidson College:

1 comment:

  1. WOW. I saw this story:

    It mentions cerebral malaria and is a story that shows how devastating malaria and water borne parasites can be.