press release
Published: 09 August 2022

British Heart Foundation to fund University of Surrey study on implications of anti-malaria medicines on cardiac rhythm

Understanding how drugs used to treat malaria impact the human heart is essential to finally toppling one of the world's most common but serious infections, according to researchers at the University of Surrey.  

The three-year study has been funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). 

Professor Kamalan Jeevaratnam, project lead from the University of Surrey's School of Veterinary Medicine, said: 

"Malaria is still one of the most devastating and widespread infections in the world --- an infection that disproportionately affects people from the most disadvantaged countries.   

"Our previous work suggests that drugs to treat malaria (individually or when used in combination) increase the risk of heart rhythm disturbance through multiple mechanisms, including altering how calcium functions in the cell, how genes are regulated, and how special channels that conduct ions work. But we must delve deeper into this issue and determine whether these side effects can be countered." 

Malaria is a serious infection spread by female mosquitoes that is potentially deadly if not treated quickly. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fever, shaking chills, and experience flu-like symptoms.   

Dr Tian Yu, Research Advisor at the British Heart Foundation, said:   

"At the moment, we do not have a complete picture of the relationship between anti-malarial drugs and heart rhythm problems. This is because rhythm disturbances are currently screened by QT interval (an electrical recording of the heart), which does not assess all aspects of arrhythmic risk.  

"Currently, we only understand how individual anti-malarial drugs may cause heart rhythm disturbances through QT interval changes. This does not reflect the fact that anti-malarial drugs could cause other cardiac changes that may lead to arrhythmia, and people may be taking a combination of treatments. By looking at other indicators of risk and how these drugs are used by people in the real world, it will provide us with valuable insights that could help make the use of these drugs safer."  

Surrey's project will address cardiac safety in novel anti-malarial agents whose development is central to the global challenge of managing and eventually eradicating malaria. The study will be pivotal in producing novel, precise and reliable cardiac safety principles and in assessing underlying risk for rhythm disturbances. The study's outcomes will be relevant not only for anti-malarials, but could be applicable to drug repurposing and development for other diseases in the future. 

Professor Paul Townsend, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Surrey, said:  

"This project is a clear example of our One Health, One Medicine ethos at the University of Surrey – a belief that human, animal, and indeed, environmental health are inextricably linked. This is the holistic worldview needed to tackle grand challenges such as malaria. 

"We are confident that outcomes from Professor Jeevaratnam's work will give a scientific basis for safer and more targeted clinical trials for drugs that treat malaria and could provide an evidence base for changes in WHO prescribing policy."  

This project is a collaboration between the University of Surrey, the Mahidol-Oxford Research Unit and Imperial College London. 


Notes to editors 

  • The project is entitled: 'Cardiac electrophysiological mechanisms associated with anti-malarial therapy and its implications for arrhythmogenesis and drug repurposing – COMPARE'. 

  • More information about the University of Surrey's Biomedical Research Facility and its commitment to openness to animal research can be found here

  • Professor Kamalan Jeevaratnam is available for interview upon request.