While the world waits for a vaccine to prevent malaria, Dr. Terrie Taylor, a professor of internal medicine and osteopathic physician at Michigan State University, has received a $8.4 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to continue her research regarding cerebral malaria in children.
Taylor and her team discovered children with cerebral malaria develop massively swollen brains, which compress the brain stem, causing pressure to build up and fatally impact breathing.
“Because we now know that brain swelling is the likely cause of death, we can focus on identifying new treatments,” says Taylor. “One intervention we will evaluate uses ventilators to (help affected children breathe). We know from studying children who have survived cerebral malaria that the brain swelling does go down after a few days. This tells me that if we can help them breathe, they may survive. It may be that simple to save children’s lives.”
The second treatment Taylor will test is a saline solution to potentially reverse the brain swelling. Though medical researchers have developed effective drugs to kill the malaria parasite, efforts to treat the effects of the disease have been unsuccessful. If Taylor’s treatments are successful, they will be the first developed for cerebral malaria.
While increased efforts towards malaria eradication and elimination have has some effect on infection, the World Health Organization reported the disease killed an estimated 303,000 children under five years of age worldwide, with 292,000 in Africa.
Taylor says cerebral malaria kills a child every two minutes. She and her team will conduct the next phases of research in Malawi’s first pediatric surgery and intensive care unit scheduled to open in April. The new facility is being built by Raising Malawi, an organization founded by Michigan pop legend Madonna.