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Malaria-infected cells stiffen, block blood flow
Date:12/20/2010

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Although the incidence of malaria has declined in all but a few countries worldwide, according to a World Health Organization report earlier this month, malaria remains a global threat. Nearly 800,000 people succumbed to the mosquito-borne disease in 2009, nearly all of them in the developing world.

Physicians do not have reliable treatment for the virus at various stages, largely because no one has been able to document the malaria parasite's journeys in the body.

Now researchers at Brown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have used advanced computer modeling and laboratory experiments to show how malaria parasites change red blood cells and how the infected cells impede blood flow to the brain and other critical organs.

Their findings, published in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help doctors chart, in real time, the buildup in the body of cells infected with malaria or other diseases (such as sickle-cell anemia) and to prescribe treatment accordingly.

"The idea is to predict the evolution of these diseases, just like we predict the weather," said George Karniadakis, professor of applied mathematics at Brown and corresponding author on the paper.

The researchers worked with Plasmodium falciparum, a parasite that can cause cerebral malaria by lodging in capillaries of the brain, especially among children. The parasite is found globally but is most common in Africa.

Once introduced into the human body by an infected mosquito's bite, the parasite invades red blood cells. Healthy red blood cells are tremendously elastic; even though they can reach 8 microns in length and 2 microns in thickness, they can easily slide through a capillary just 3 microns in diameter. Capillaries are vital conduits in the human brain and other organs; red blood cells are key transporters of oxygen and nutrien
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Contact: Richard Lewis
Richard_Lewis@brown.edu
401-863-3766
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert  

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