An approach to treat malaria that simulates a ‘protective’ state in red blood cells seen in individuals that are resistant to severe forms of the disease is demonstrated in a small mouse study published in Nature Communications this week. The preliminary findings could inspire novel anti-malaria treatments that target host cells, rather than the parasite, which may mitigate the development of treatment resistance.
A subset of the human population carries genetic variations that confer protection from severe malaria. These mutations affect interactions between red blood cells and the intracellular malaria parasite. Michael Lanzer and colleagues find that the mutations in the oxygen-carrying haemoglobin molecule result in an imbalance in oxidizing agents in red blood cells, and this so-called redox imbalance affects how the parasite interacts with these cells. Molecules that artificially induce such a redox imbalance have the same effect. The authors treated six mice with an oxidizing supplement called menadione, which reacts with haemoglobin, and found that symptoms of cerebral malaria are reduced.
Although the results in mice are encouraging, future studies are needed to address safety and efficacy of this approach, as the authors note that pro-oxidative drugs may have adverse effects.