How a Crime Scene Chemical Could Help Fight Malaria

A medical slide screen of malaria.

Image: Shutterstock

The worldwide malaria epidemic remains a major problem, despite the many organizations working hard to prevent and treat it. In 2013 alone, malaria infected 198 million people and killed 584,000, according to the World Health Organization. But a new study suggests that luminol, used in crime scenes to find stray traces of blood, could be the key to killing the parasite that causes malaria—great news for malaria sufferers and organizations that have been fighting for years to treat and prevent the spread of the disease.

Luminol, the glowing compound sprayed at crime scenes to find trace amounts of blood, also happens to react to hemoglobin in red blood cells. When combined with the antimalarial drug artemisinin and a specific amino acid, it could form a powerful new malaria treatment. This is particularly important because malaria is constantly evolving and becoming resistant to treatments, which means patients often have to take multiple drugs and change them over time—a big hassle and expense.

For organizations like Chris Flowers’s J.C. Flowers Foundation, which works extensively to raise awareness of and prevent malaria, this sort of treatment could be a huge breakthrough. Organizations like the J.C. Flowers Foundation work to spread information about malaria and send help to regions particularly devastated by it, such as Zambia and other rural areas in Africa.

In the meantime, research continues on the possibilities with luminol and artemisinin. “All of these agents…have been cleared for use in humans individually, so we are optimistic that they won’t present any safety problems together,” said Daniel Goldberg, professor of medicine and molecular microbiology at Washington University in St. Louis, where the studies are being performed. “This could be a promising new treatment for a devastating disease.”

Funding for the research comes from the National Institutes of Health, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Medical Scientists, and the Career Awared at the Scientific Interface.

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Mary Summers is a recent college grad and freelance writer residing in the Pacific Northwest. She loves writing about trending topics, health and beauty advice, music, film, and television.

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