Cerebral Malaria is an incredibly serious issue in the central African country of Malawi impacting thousands of children each year. With a mortality rate of 15 to 25 percent, the disease is a serious one, even for those who survive it’s acute phase. As a part of a longtime partnership with Malawi, Michigan State University researchers discovered that a third of cerebral malaria survivors developed serious neurological problems including epilepsy.
“The indicators [in children who developed problems] were a higher maximum fever and seizures during admission,” says Gretchen Birbeck, a professor of neurology and ophthalmology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine
. “If we could do something better with fever or something better with seizures, that could be a potential intervention.”
Now, Birbeck and a team of MSU researchers will expand upon their work by attempting to do just that. In a small clinical trial of 40 children, they’ll administer levetiracetam, or LVT, an anti-seizure medication used in the United States and other developed nations during the acute phase of the disease.
The research is being funded with a nearly $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
“If we can find the drug is safe and effective enough we’ll be able to do a fully blown clinical trial,” Birbeck says.
Birbeck learned of the NIH grant award in May, and hopes to begin the trial in January of 2013. Though only time will tell if the drug is effective, according to Birbeck, even partial success could have a big impact.
“We do know that around 125,000 cases of epilepsy occur in Africa because of cerebral malaria,” she says. “Even if you prevented injury in 10 percent of kids, that’s a cumulative thing.”