A drug already approved for treating other diseases may be useful as a treatment for cerebral malaria, according to researchers at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. They discovered a novel link between food intake during the early stages of infection and the outcome of the disease, identifying two molecular pathways that could serve as new targets for treatment.

“We have known for a long time that nutrition can affect the course of infectious disease, but we were surprised at how rapidly a mild reduction in food intake could improve outcome in a mouse malaria model,” said senior author James Mitchell, associate professor of genetics and complex diseases. “However, the real importance of this work is the identification of unexpected molecular pathways underlying cerebral malaria that we can now target with existing drugs.”

The study appears online January 30, 2015 in Nature Communications.

Cerebral malaria — a severe form of the disease — is the most serious consequence of infection by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, resulting in seizures, coma, and death. Currently there is a lack of safe treatment options for cerebral malaria, particularly for use in children, who represent the majority of cases.

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