Eye study shows how deadly form of malaria kills
The finding means that drugs such as statins which help improve circulation could be used in new treatments to fight cerebral malaria, researchers said.
The human eye can help doctors understand how an acute form of malaria attacks the brain, researchers said on Wednesday, opening the way to new and better treatments for one of Africa's biggest killers.
By examining the eyes of people with cerebral malaria, researchers detected tiny blood vessel blockages in the brain which they believe starve brain cells and cause the disease, which mainly affects children.
The finding means that drugs such as statins which help improve circulation could be used in new treatments to fight cerebral malaria, the researchers said.
"What we are talking about is multiple small areas of blockages in the brain where the brain isn't getting enough blood and oxygen," Nick Beare of the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, who led the research, said in a telephone interview.
"We think this is critical in causing coma and death in cerebral malaria," he said.
Malaria killed 881,000 people and infected 247 million worldwide in 2006, mainly in Africa, according to the World Health Organisaton's latest statistics. Some malaria experts say those numbers underestimate the problem.
The disease, which is caused by a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes, has become resistant to some drugs, and work on a vaccine has been slow. One effective treatment is Novartis AG's Coartem.
The problem with these treatments is they only target the parasite and do not address problems which can lead to coma and death, Beare said.
In their study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the researchers examined the retinas of 34 children in Malawi who were admitted to hospital with suspected cases of cerebral malaria.
Using a technique that involves injecting dye into the children's arms that passes through the retina's blood vessels, the researchers observed blockages under fluorescent light they believe cause cerebral malaria.
"This window into the brain has opened up our knowledge of what makes cerebral malaria so deadly," Beare said.
"We looked at the eye because the retina -- the tissue at the back of the eye that picks up light -- is really an extension of the brain."
Reuters Last Mod: 15 Ocak 2009, 14:44