Measuring and modeling blood flow in malaria

November 23, 2009

When people have malaria, they are infected with Plasmodium parasites, which enter the body from the saliva of a mosquito, infect cells in the liver, and then spread to red blood cells. Inside the blood cells, the parasites replicate and also begin to expose adhesive proteins on the cell surface that change the physical nature of the cells in the bloodstream.

Experiments show that infected red blood cells are stiffer and stickier than normal ones -- in the later stages of the disease, up to 10 times stiffer. They also tend to adhere to the lining the vasculature, affecting the normal blood flow. This explains some of the common symptoms of , such as anemia and joint pain.

Sticking to the walls of blood vessels is a survival mechanism for the parasite. In order to develop completely, it needs several days inside a red blood cell. Even though parasitized cells are nearly invisible for the immune system, they may be destroyed in the spleen while circulating freely in the bloodstream.

Doctoral student Dmitry Fedosov and Brown University professor George Karniadakis are studying how malaria infections affect the physical properties of red blood cells, and alter normal blood flow circulation. In particular, they examine an increase in blood flow resistance, and dynamics of infected cells in the bloodstream.

The researchers present these findings today at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society's (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics.

They also monitor the mechanical properties of infected red blood cells by measuring membrane temperature fluctuations, and through the response of a "microbead" that is attached to the cell and twisted. The measured properties are then used in modeling the flow of red blood cells in people infected with malaria. They also collaborate with the group of professor Subra Suresh at MIT, who obtain experimental measurements of the properties and the flow of healthy and infected cells.

"Our model predicts the dynamics of malaria-infected RBCs in the , which anticipates the possible course of the disease," says Fedosov.

Recently they found that temperature fluctuations of infected red blood cell membranes measured in experiments are not directly correlated with the reported cell properties, hence suggesting significant influence of metabolic processes. They measured an increase in resistance to blood flow in the capillaries and small arterioles during the course of malaria and found that parasitized have a "flipping" motion at the vessel wall that appears to be due to stiffness of the infected cells. The developed models will aid to make realistic predictions of the possible course of the disease, and enhance current malaria treatments.

More information: The talk "Multiscale modeling of blood flow in cerebral malaria" by Dmitry Fedosov, Bruce Caswell, and George Karniadakis is at 6:12 p.m. on Sunday, November 22, 2009. Abstract:

Source: American Institute of Physics

Explore further: How adhesive protein causes malaria

Related Stories

How adhesive protein causes malaria

September 25, 2007

Researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet (KI) and the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control (SMI) have identified the biochemical mechanism behind the adhesive protein that give rise ...

How the malaria parasite hijacks human red blood cells

July 8, 2008

A new study—done on a scale an order of magnitude greater than anything previously attempted in the field of malaria—has uncovered an arsenal of proteins produced by the malaria parasite that allows it to hijack and remodel ...

Recommended for you

Gene editing: Research spurs debate over promise vs. ethics

October 9, 2015

The hottest tool in biology has scientists using words like revolutionary as they describe the long-term potential: wiping out certain mosquitoes that carry malaria, treating genetic diseases like sickle-cell, preventing ...

Mapping the protein universe

October 9, 2015

To understand how life works, figure out the proteins first. DNA is the architect of life, but proteins are the workhorses. After proteins are built using DNA blueprints, they are constantly at work breaking down and building ...


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.