According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 198 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide and 500,000 people died, mostly children in the African Region.
People stricken with the mosquito-borne illness often experience fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms. Left untreated, they may develop the most severe form of malaria, known as cerebral malaria.
In this deadly condition, infected red blood cells are trapped within the microscopic vessels of the brain. This impedes critical oxygen delivery, resulting in coma and often leading to death.
A recent collaboration between an international team of scientists, including researchers at Duke Medicine, has showed that cerebral malaria is also marked by lower production of nitric oxide in the cells lining these micro-vessels.
Reintroducing nitric oxide back to the cells could help prevent malaria-infected red cells from sticking to blood vessel walls and avoid this dire condition.
The teams conducted field research in Tanzania, Indonesia, Australia and the U.S. and found that a critical co-factor for an enzyme that produces nitric oxide must be “charged” with potential energy.
DukeAccording to a university press release, “This co-factor is called tetrahydrobiopterin (abbreviated BH4). It exists in both energy-rich and energy-drained forms – or like a battery, in a charged and discharged state. In normal cells, the BH4 battery is always poised in the charged state. “
The researchers measured these molecules in severe malaria cases and found that there was plenty of BH4 co-factor, but that it had been discharged, or “run down” to continue the battery analogy. They speculated that the BH4 discharge, or “draining” might be due to oxygen radicals associated with malaria.
Scientists say the next step is to find a way to supply energy back to BH4, with potential in existing vascular treatments. If they are successful, there is the potential to save millions of lives worldwide.