US Study Shows Pre-Existing Drug Could Prevent Malaria

October 23, 2003
By Kate Woodsome
The Cambodia Daily

Commonly prescribed bloodpressure medication may be an effective means to fight the most drug-resistant strain of malaria parasites, according to a medical study published in September.

Beta-blockers, a medicine containing hormones that regulate cardiovascular activity, may help prevent malaria parasites from entering red blood cells and infecting the body's bloodstream, the medical journal Science reported Sept 19.

Malaria, transmitted by mosquitoes, takes hold when disease-carrying parasites multiply within a body's red blood cells, flooding the blood stream with thousands more parasites. This so-called "explosion" causes symptoms such as headaches, chills, muscle aches and fatigue.

The study was conducted by medical researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in the US state of Illinois.

The researchers including Kasturi Haldar, Jon Lomasney and Travis Harrison found that malaria parasites may use G proteins to enter red blood cells. G proteins acts as transducers, sending signals from hormones, neurotransmitters and other substances that then activate cell processes, such as gene transcription.

Preventing malaria parasites from entering red blood cells by using beta-blockers is the most direct way to stop malaria symptoms before they start, according to the study.

"Since beta-blockers are directed against a host target, there is low chance of rapid emergence of resistance to these drugs," Lomasney and Haldar said in a statement released by Northwestern University .

Though the findings are not recognized by the international medical community as a legitimate malaria preventive, scientists and doctors have recognized beta-blockers as an up-and-coming wonder drug, said Dr Sovann Yadany Kim, a World Health Organization medical officer.

Originally used as a preventive drug against heart attacks, the medicine has been discovered in ongoing research to have several new applications, including use as a treatment for heart deficiency, she said.

"Now we're getting more flexible with special types of beta-blockers," Kim said. "But it won't affect WHO recommendations. It's too new. If it's proved effective, maybe in three to five years, we will see it."
Because recommendations from the global health body steer Cambodia's malaria drug treatment program, the research should not affect the country's anti-malaria strategy, said Dr Kheng Sim, head of the National Malaria Center's technical office.

The country has changed its national malaria treatment plan five times in the past 12 years, adopting WHO recommendations after the organization started its relationship with the Health Ministry in 1991, Kheng Sim said.

Recommended drug regimens have ranged from single-drug treatments to the current combination drug therapy. Drug-sensitivity monitoring programs determine whether the WHO's international recommendations are appropriate in Cambodia, Kheng Sim said.

The researchers have filed a patent on the treatment, according to the Northwestern University statement.