Research scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis have revealed that Luminol – compound used at crime-scenes to detect traces of blood – can possibly be used to kill malaria parasites. By tricking malaria-infected red blood cells into accumulating a volatile stock of chemicals, scientists can manipulate the parasite to set off on exposure to Luminol.

Need For A New Treatment Strategy

World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 198 million people were infected with malaria in 2013, out of which 584,000 cases were fatal. The majority of these patients were African children.

Current treatment strategies against the malaria parasite have become ineffective. WHO suggests that Artemisinin, the most common anti-malarial drug, should only be administered in combination with other therapies, since the parasite has developed drug resistance and a single treatment is no longer effective.

Luminol Compound May Combat Malaria Parasite

This new approach is immensely advantageous, since it targets specific proteins manufactured by the red blood cells, which cannot be mutated by the parasite.

“The light that Luminol emits is enhanced by the antimalarial drug Artemisinin,” explained senior author Daniel Goldberg, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Molecular Microbiology. “Combining both these agents can result in an innovative treatment for malaria”.

How The New Test Would Work

Scientists led by Paul Sigala, PhD, a scientist in Goldberg’s Laboratory and first author of the study, used human red blood cells that were infected with malaria parasite. The team wanted to observe the specific mechanism via which the parasite targets heme – essential non-protein component of hemoglobin in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Heme is vital for the survival of the parasite.

Observations revealed that the parasite opens an unnatural channel on the red blood cells’ surface. Adding an ingredient of heme, in this case an amino acid, to the solution containing the red blood cells caused the amino acid to enter the cells and initiate the heme-manufacturing process. The latter led to the accumulation of protoporphyrin IX, which on exposure to light, emits dangerously reactive compounds called free radicals, simultaneously killing the parasite.

Further Developments

Scientists are now planning to test the approach in animal models.

“All the agents used in the study – the amino acid, the Luminol and Artemisinin – have been cleared for use in humans individually”, stated Goldberg, who is optimistic that the innovative procedure will not cause any safety issues and will lead to a promising new therapy for malaria.