Methylene blue die kills in vivo malaria parasites at speed not seen before

February 6, 2018, Radboud University Nijmegen
Credit: CDC

Research shows that the dye methylene blue is a safe antimalarial that kills malaria parasites at an unprecedented rate. Within two days, patients are cured of the disease and no longer transmit the parasite if they are bitten again by a mosquito. This discovery was made by Radboud university medical center scientists and international colleagues during a research project conducted in Mali. The results will be published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases on February 6th.

The pressure is on when it comes to antimalarial medicines, as parasites are increasingly resistant to the artemisinin-based combination therapies that are currently used. In addition, these medicines do very little to stop the spread of malaria, as the parasites remain in the blood for a long time, with the chance that other mosquitos are infected if they feed on the patient. The parasites split in the patient's red blood cells, forming male and female sex cells (gametocytes). If another mosquito bites the patient, it sucks up the sex cells and these are fertilized in the mosquito's stomach. The offspring then find their way to the mosquito's salivary glands, where the cycle starts again.

The gametocytes can stay in a person's body for several weeks following treatment for malaria. In the new study in Mali, Radboudumc researchers added methylene blue to the artemisinin-based combination therapy. Methylene blue is a blue dye that is used in laboratories to distinguish dead cells from living . Adding the dye to the antimalaria medicine ensured that no longer infected other mosquitos, within as little as 48 hours. Patients who were not given methylene blue were able to infect other mosquitos for at least a week. Researcher Teun Bousema (Radboudumc) coordinated the study which was conducted together with the University of California (UCSF) and the Malaria Research and Training Center (MRTC). Bousema: "We noted that the male parasites disappeared from the bloodstream more quickly than the female ."

Encouraged by the promising results of laboratory experiments, Bousema's team has investigated for the first time the effect of methylene blue on the spread of malaria amongst humans. Bousema: "Methylene blue is very promising, because it can prevent the spread of malaria within such a short time following treatment. There are also indications that also works well in species that are resistant to certain medicines." The dye is safe and was tolerated well by patients. There is however just one awkward side effect: "I have used it myself, and it turns your urine bright blue. This is something that we need to solve, because it could stop people from using it."

Malaria causes 430?000 deaths every year. Infection is caused by the bite of a malaria-carrying mosquito, and 90 percent of all deaths are in Africa, mostly amongst children. Malaria prevention focuses primarily on the use of mosquito nets, insecticides and medicine and, as a result, the number of deaths due to malaria has almost halved in the last 10 years.

Explore further: Experts discover ways to tackle drug resistant parasites that cause the killer disease malaria

Related Stories

Experts discover ways to tackle drug resistant parasites that cause the killer disease malaria

December 11, 2017
A new analysis of all relevant previously published clinical data shows how parasites causing malaria become resistant to a commonly used treatment for malaria in travelers.

First drug-resistant malaria parasite detected in Africa

February 22, 2017
For the first time in Africa, researchers said Wednesday they have detected a malaria parasite that is partially resistant to the top anti-malaria drug, artemisinin, raising concern about efforts to fight a disease that ...

Less effective antimalarial therapies can help fight malaria better

November 12, 2015
Oxford University scientists have found that the more effective way to beat malaria is to use less effective drugs some of the time.

Recommended for you

Marker may help target treatments for Crohn's patients

October 16, 2018
Crohn's disease (CD), a chronic inflammatory condition of the intestinal tract, has emerged as a global disease, with rates steadily increasing over the last 50 years. Experts have long suspected that CD likely represents ...

Polio: Environmental monitoring will be key as world reaches global eradication

October 15, 2018
Robust environmental monitoring should be used as the world approaches global eradication of polio, say University of Michigan researchers who recently studied the epidemiology of the 2013 silent polio outbreak in Rahat, ...

Study traces hospital-acquired bloodstream infections to patients' own bodies

October 15, 2018
The most common source of a bloodstream infection acquired during a hospital stay is not a nurse's or doctor's dirty hands, or another patient's sneeze or visitor's cough, but the patient's own gut, Stanford University School ...

Researchers make essential imaging tests safer for people at risk of acute kidney injury

October 15, 2018
Every year, millions of people undergo medical tests and procedures, such as coronary angiography, which use intravascular contrast dyes. "For the majority of patients, these are safe and necessary procedures. However, about ...

Do not give decongestants to young children for common cold symptoms, say experts

October 11, 2018
Decongestants should not be given to children under 6—and given with caution in children under 12—as there is no evidence that they alleviate symptoms such as a blocked or runny nose, and their safety is unclear, say ...

New techniques can detect Lyme disease weeks before current tests

October 11, 2018
Researchers have developed techniques to detect Lyme disease bacteria weeks sooner than current tests, allowing patients to start treatment earlier.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

avandesande2000
not rated yet Feb 06, 2018
It appear the editor 'died'

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.