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PPAR-gamma agonists for the treatment of cerebral malaria - tweaking the host response to save brains

April 7, 2011 - 14:48 -- Lena Serghides

Even when treated with the best anti-malaria drugs 1 in 5 children with cerebral malaria will die, and of the survivors 1 in 4 will be left with long-term learning and memory impairment. This is because the host response to the infection plays as much a role in contributing to the development of cerebral malaria as does the parasite itself. Although conventional therapies for malaria can be very effective at eliminating the parasite, they do little to modulate the host response.

Our idea is to use PPAR-gamma agonists as adjunctive therapy for cerebral malaria. My colleagues and I at the SA Rotman Labs at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health have years of research data that support the notion that PPAR-gamma agonists can help protect the brain. PPAR-gamma agonists can limit the inflammatory response to the infection, they can render tissue more resistant to inflammatory damage, and they have neuro-protective and neuro-regenerative effects. Using PPAR-gamma agonists in addition to conventional therapies could help protect the brain from injury during malaria infection, and help reduce incidences of death and neurocognitive impairment.

A great feature of PPAR-gamma agonists is that they are already approved for human use (in the treatment of diabetes), and intellectual patent rights on their use have expired. This will avoid much of the cost and time associated with bringing this novel treatment to the patient, and will help to minimize the market price making PPAR-gamma agonists accessible to the people that need them.

As part of the Grand Challenges Canada program we are seeking support to test PPAR-gamma agonists in patients with cerebral malaria. Part of the decision relies on whether you think this idea can have an impact on global health. Please take the time to view our video at the Grand Challenges Canada website ( If you like what you see, we would appreciate your vote!

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