“There’s a lot of hope. I am very optimistic because we know that the mechanisms we are looking at in the two models are very similar to the mechanism that we have in humans,” Anna Vogt, a member of the research team at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, told AFP.
The treatment concerns the most acute form of malaria, caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparium which kills two million people each year, according to a statement from the institute.
The substance developed by the team both prevents and helps cure blood cells infected with the parasite.
“The parasite … infects the red blood cells, which then accumulate in large amounts, blocking the flow of blood in the capillaries of the brain and other organs,” the researchers said.
Because Plasmodium falciparum exists only in humans, the researchers had to inject it into the rats and monkeys.
“We have developed two short term models where we inject the animals with infected human red blood cells and look at the binding phenomenon in the lungs of rats and monkeys,” Vogt said.
“Then we treat the animals and we can see that the infected cells are released in the (blood) circulation”, enabling the blood to circulate freely again, she said.
“But of course there are a lot of additional factors in humans that we can’t control in animals,” she added.
Vogt stressed that the treatment would serve as a complement to other treatments, as it targets “the symptoms that lead to severe malaria.”
“Then you have to use an antimalaria drug that will release the parasite from the (blood) circulation.”
Tests on humans are scheduled to begin within a year or two.
The research results were published on Friday in the online science journal PLoS Pathogens of the Public Library of Science.