Anti-inflammatory agents developed by UBC microbiologist Robert Hancock, used in combination with anti-malarial drugs, have been shown to boost survival rates of severe malaria by as much as 50 per cent.
Malaria kills up to one million people worldwide every year, particularly children under five and pregnant women, who often develop severe clinical symptoms such as brain damage and multiple organ failure. Up to 25 per cent of severe clinical malaria cases are fatal even with access to the best health care, partly because the parasite triggers inflammation that damages vital organs.
In a study published in the May 24 edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine, scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Australia showed that innate defense regulator (IDR) peptides prevented inflammation in the brains of mice with malaria and improved their survival.
IDR peptides were developed by Prof. Hancock and colleagues at UBC as part of an $8.7-million Grand Challenges in Global Health grant led by UBC microbiologist Brett Finlay. The peptides have since been licensed for animal health and approved by Cystic Fibrosis Canada for pre-clinical development as an anti-inflammatory for CF lung infections.
Hancock says the findings support an approach to treating infections called host-directed therapy – intended to target the host and not the parasite.
“One of the major challenges we have in treating infections with antibiotics is that the microbes can evolve and become resistant to the treatment,” says Hancock, Canada Research Chair in Pathogenomics and Antimicrobials and a co-author of the study.
“IDR peptides enhance beneficial aspects of the initial immune response, while dampening harmful inflammation,” says co-author Louis Schofield from WEHI. “IDR peptides are also relatively cheap to produce and easy to use, making them a good option for medical treatments in developing countries.”