Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mechanics of Malaria: Elasticity of Red Blood Cells

The researcher from Brown and MIT are coming closer to finding valuable information that could lead to a cure for malaria, mainly cerebral malaria. The researchers are studying the effects of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite causing cerebral malaria, on red blood cells. This form of malaria mainly affects children and is one of the deadliest forms of malaria.

The main goal of this research was to examine the features of this disease from a mechanical point of view. Through their research the team has discovered that the red blood cells that are affected by the parasite Plasmodium falicparum were far stiffer and more adhesive than healthy red blood cells. They stretched the cells in order to examine their elastic properties and saw that these infected cells were 10-20 times stiffer than normal cells.

Since red blood cells have to be fast messengers, traveling quickly through the capillaries, these stiffer cells cannot travel at the same speed. Also, since the cells become adhesive they tend to travel closer to the walls of the arteries while healthy red blood cells travel through the center. These two characteristics of the infected blood cells cause these red blood cells to stick to the capillaries in the brain, thus causing them to not reach the spleen. The spleen is responsible for filtering parasites from the blood. These infected red blood cells are unable to transport nutrients and oxygen to the rest of the body.

These discoveries could provide information extremely valuable to treating malaria.


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