Background: Safe, cheap and effective adjunct therapies preventing the development of, or reducing the mortality from, severe malaria could have considerable and rapid public health impact. Oral activated charcoal (oAC) is a safe and well tolerated treatment for acute poisoning, more recently shown to have significant immunomodulatory effects in man. In preparation for possible efficacy trials in human malaria, we sought to determine whether oAC would i) reduce mortality due to experimental cerebral malaria (ECM) in mice, ii) modulate immune and inflammatory responses associated with ECM, and iii) affect the pharmacokinetics of parenteral artesunate in human volunteers. Methods/Principal Findings: We found that oAC provided significant protection against P. berghei ANKA-induced ECM, increasing overall survival time compared to untreated mice (p<0.0001; hazard ratio 16.4; 95% CI 6.73 to 40.1). Protection from ECM by oAC was associated with reduced numbers of splenic TNF+ CD4+ T cells and multifunctional IFNγ+TNF+ CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. Furthermore, we identified a whole blood gene expression signature (68 genes) associated with protection from ECM. To evaluate whether oAC might affect current best available anti-malarial treatment, we conducted a randomized controlled open label trial in 52 human volunteers (ISRCTN NR. 64793756), administering artesunate (AS) in the presence or absence of oAC. We demonstrated that co-administration of oAC was safe and well-tolerated. In the 26 subjects further analyzed, we found no interference with the pharmacokinetics of parenteral AS or its pharmacologically active metabolite dihydroartemisinin. Conclusions/Significance: oAC protects against ECM in mice, and does not interfere with the pharmacokinetics of parenteral artesunate. If future studies succeed in establishing the efficacy of oAC in human malaria, then the characteristics of being inexpensive, well-tolerated at high doses and requiring no sophisticated storage would make oAC a relevant candidate for adjunct therapy to reduce mortality from severe malaria, or for immediate treatment of suspected severe malaria in a rural setting.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)