Can inhaling a gas save children from malaria?

An article from the Global Post
August 6, 2013
Can inhaling a gas save children from malaria?


August 6, 2013 -- MBARARA, Uganda — Ignatius was no longer conscious when he arrived at the hospital in Mbarara, Uganda.

After experiencing fever and chills, the six-year-old boy, whose last name has been omitted to protect his privacy, began convulsing and then slipped into a coma on July 30. He was suffering from cerebral malaria, a severe form of the disease in which malaria parasites clog the blood vessels of the brain.

“Cerebral malaria cases will die 100 percent [of the time] if not treated properly,” said Dr. Juliet Mwanga, the medical and research director for Doctors Without Borders in Mbarara.

But by late last Friday afternoon, Ignatius’s eyes were open, and he slightly lifted his arm in response to greetings. Covered in a turquoise sheet and red blanket in a special ward in Mbarara Hospital run by Epicentre, the research branch of Doctors Without Borders, he appeared to be out of danger.

His life may have been saved by an experimental malaria treatment that Epicentre is currently testing, which researchers believe could help remove the heavy burden of death and disability from one of malaria’s most lethal strains.

Epicentre researchers are having children with cerebral malaria inhale a gas, nitric oxide. Piped into the children’s noses and mouths from large silver canisters marked “Experimental Study Drug,” nitric oxide is thought to dilate blood vessels and reduce inflammation in the brain. The goal, according to a 2012 article by the Epicentre team, is “buying time” for medicines to kill the malaria parasites while protecting children’s brains from the parasites’ devastating effects.

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