An international collaboration including OMRF has found a new target in the fight against a deadly tropical disease.
Malaria is an infectious disease common in tropical regions near the equator and exhibits flu-like symptoms that can lead to death. The World Health Organization estimated 219 million cases of malaria in 2010 and between 680,000 and 1.2 million deaths from the disease, many of which were children.
One major cause of childhood mortality in Africa is malarial stroke, in which blood clots form and cause hemorrhaging in the brain. Research from Christopher Moxon, Ph.D., and Robert Heyderman, Ph.D., of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Ngawina Chisala, of the University of Malawi College of Medicine, and OMRF researcher Charles Esmon, Ph.D., showed patients with malarial stroke were missing a protein called endothelial Protein C receptor (EPCR) at the site where the clots form. Their research was published in the journal Blood.
“We’ve already seen in animal models that if EPCR disappears and inflammation occurs, the body can’t fight the tendency to develop clots,” said Esmon, who holds the Lloyd Noble Chair in Cardiovascular Biology at OMRF. “Malaria causes inflammation, so when EPCR isn’t there, it leads to clotting.”
Once clots form, they can be extremely dangerous, especially if they break loose and travel to the brain, causing a stroke. When a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain, it deprives brain tissue of oxygen and food. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die.
Esmon is now collaborating with Joseph Smith, Ph.D., of the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, to see if any of the reagents currently used at OMRF could affect the process.
“We know a lot about how EPCR works and he is an expert on malaria,” he said. “If we’re lucky, we might find something that could make a difference as an intervention in this devastating disease.”
Scientists and physicians have worked for years to stop malaria, with mixed results, Esmon said. The new information about the role of this protein in malarial strokes might provide more insight into inhibiting the disease.
Most of Esmon’s work with EPCR has focused on other clotting diseases, including sepsis. Similarly, OMRF scientist Jordan Tang, Ph.D., recently found his research into cutting enzymes, which was previously applied to digestion, AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease, is now being used to understand the kind of yeast infections that cause thrush.