Luminol is a forensic compound used to test for blood stains at crime scenes. Now researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine may have found a way to kill the malaria parasite through use of the fluid’s trademark blue glow.
Although several treatments already exist for malaria, the parasite’s mutations have resulted in an increasing resistance to existing remedies. This growing resistance is why the World Health Organization (WHO) urges the most common antimalarial drug, artemisinin, to only be used in combination with other therapies. Interestingly, artemisinin is one of the key elements in the proposed treatment approach, since artemisinin has been found to enhance the glow luminol gives off when it encounters the hemoglobin in red blood cells.
The treatment idea takes advantage of how malaria behaves inside a cell. The malaria parasite feeds on heme, one of the components of hemoglobin. If a certain amino acid, called ALA, is introduced to a cell, it will stimulate the production of heme. While it may seem counterproductive to give the parasite more of what it wants, the production of heme also results in a byproduct called protoporphyrin IX. If this new substance is exposed to the light from luminol, it emits free radicals that are dangerous to the parasite.
What the Washington researchers aim to do is devise a therapy based around these interactions. By using ALA to trigger heme production, they create a stockpile of protoporphyrin IX. Then, artemisinin-boosted luminol is introduced. The luminol reacts to the hemoglobin and starts glowing, which triggers the creation of free radicals to kill the malaria parasite. Since the main components, the ALA amino acid, luminol, and artemisinin, are approved for human use individually, it is hoped that the combination will not create health hazards either.
The research team’s next step is to devise animal studies to test different delivery methods of the treatment, confirm efficacy in a live body, and to assess safety of a potentially promising new treatment.
Largely prevalent in Africa, malaria infects about 200 million people a year and kills almost 600,000, the majority being children.
Sigala, P.A. et al. “Deconvoluting heme biosynthesis to target blood-stage malaria parasites,” eLife, 2015; 4 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.09143.
“Crime-scene compound may be newest tool in fight against malaria,” ScienceDaily web site, August 7, 2015; www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150807094637.htm.