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New discovery could be key in Malaria treatment

By Wai Lang Chu , 02-Oct-2006

Researchers believe that they have discovered a new treatment for the severest form of Malaria, which may be able to help in preventing the two million lives the disease claims each year.

The discovery could prove a valuable addition to the current arsenal of drug treatments used to treat and prevent this life-threatening infection. However, like with all treatments, current methods are not without its disadvantages.

The anti-coagulant, heparin is used in the treatment of severe malaria. Heparin was able to release the blood cells, but it was soon withdrawn when it was shown that the substance caused internal bleeding.

P. falciparum, is the most dangerous of these infections as P. falciparum malaria has the highest rates of complications and mortality.

In addition it accounts for 80 per cent of all human malarial infections and 90 per cent of the deaths. It is more prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa than in other regions of the world.

The disease is caused when P. falciparium infects the red blood cells, which then accumulate in large amounts, blocking the flow of blood in the capillaries of the brain and other organs.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden developed a substance that prevents infected blood cells from binding with receptors on other blood cells and on the vessel wall, and acting like glue.

The substance also releases blood cells already bound. Using this method, scientists have been able to treat severe malaria in rats and primates effectively; it now remains to be seen whether these results can be replicated in people.

What is more extraordinary is the new substance is a development of heparin, and has the important difference of having no effect on normal blood coagulation.

"There's often a lack of ability to treat people suffering from severe malaria," said Professor Wahlgren, head researcher.

"We've developed a substance that might be able to help these patients," he added.

According to estimates, between 300m and 500m new cases of malaria occur each year.

Malaria morbidity and mortality rates are rising in developing countries, largely due to the emergence of drug resistant parasites rendering traditional antimalarial drugs, such as chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) ineffective.

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