What’s Viagra Got To Do With Malaria?

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via pixgood.com

via pixgood.com

Until now, Viagra has generally been used to promote healthy penis function in men young & old suffering from sub-par erections. What is less-popularly known is that Viagra also has been found useful in treating a long list of other conditions: stroke, heart attack, memory loss, jet lag, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and pain. Furthermore, recent studies, publicized in PLOS Pathogens, show that it can prevent the spread of malaria.

Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium falciparum, which is passed to humans by mosquitoes, enters the bloodstream and develops inside our red blood cells, or erythrocytes. While the infected cells act as parasite nests, the cells’ characteristics don’t change significantly and thus can evade attack by the body’s defense mechanisms.

While normal erythrocytes get stuck in the filtration system of the spleen, malaria parasites are able to alter the cell’s deformability, and remain in the blood (and eventually get ingested by another mosquito, and passed on to more people). Scientists surmised that if they could force infected cells to mutate, they might be able to reduce their staying power in the bloodstream and  interrupt further malaria transmission.

Researchers from the Institut Cochin, the Institut Pasteur and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that the key to changing the shape and character of the cells was a molecule called cAMP, which promotes stiffening when it builds up inside cells. They set out to learn how to manually change its levels.

The team discovered that the cAMP molecule is suppressed by an enzyme called phosphodiesterase. They began tests to find which substances could impede its activity, theoretically preventing cAMP levels from dropping. Viagra, was unexpectedly found to make cells less alterable and thus less likely to bypass the spleen’s filtration and stay in the bloodstream.

The next step is to see whether Viagra, already a licensed drug, could be approved for clinical trials with its new purpose.

The question remains: if given as a malaria epidemic preventative, would everyone treated be walking around with a certain awkward side-effect?!

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