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A compound found in the skin of grapes and used to make red wine may help fight severe malaria, raising hopes of finding a new adjunctive therapy against an illness that kills an estimated 1 million people a year, according to a study presented today at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH)'s 59th annual meeting.
Resveratrol, which in earlier studies has been found to have beneficial anti-cancer effects and may protect the heart, had not previously been associated with fighting malaria or other infectious diseases.
A new National Institutes of Health study suggests that treatment of parasite-infected red blood cells with resveratrol significantly reduces their ability to adhere to the body's cells lining small blood vessels. That reduction in binding to blood vessels is predicted to greatly lessen the probability of developing severe clinical manifestations of malaria, according to the study.
The study suggests that resveratrol, which is commercially available, can be used in combination with antimalarial chemotherapy to improve the survival chances of people with severe malaria.
"Our results demonstrate the possibility of a new therapy to treat severe malaria," says Jordan A. Zuspann of the National Institutes of Health, who presented the work at the ASTMH session. "We hope that we have identified a way to ameliorate the severity of malaria in young African children."
Malaria is caused by a parasite that is transmitted from one human to another by the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. In humans, the parasites travel to the liver, where they eventually enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells. The parasites multiply inside the red blood cells, which then rupture within 48 to 72 hours, infecting more red blood cells.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 300-500 million cases of malaria each year around the world more than there are people in the United States. The parasites have developed resistance to some antibiotics, placing a premium on the discovery of new drug therapies in order to save lives.
Zuspann says that further investigation is needed to confirm these early but promising results.
"Our goals include pinpointing the mechanism that causes the effect within parasite-infected red blood cells that we have already documented, as well as possibly collecting similar data in endemic regions to further strengthen our study," Zuspann adds.
"As we work toward eliminating malaria, it's essential that we control and treat the disease as much as possible," says ASTMH president Edward T. Ryan. "Any potential breakthrough in malaria treatment needs to be ardently pursued and studied. That's why funding for research in this area remains so critical. "