Scientists recently discovered that the Plasmodium falciparum parasite (the parasite responsible for malaria) contains the single mutated gene (K13) responsible for increasing resistance to malaria treatments in Southeast Asia.
Researchers plan to use this information to further understand the disease and to better the efficacy of its treatments. They hope to stop the progress of the gene before it spreads to other parts of the world.
Malaria mortality rates have decreased by 30 percent around the world. This is due to the artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) that have been administered since the 1990s.
Unfortunately the 30 percent gain in the fight against malaria is threatened by the mutated gene. The gene resists the main ingredients of the ACTs used in Southeast Asia.
Researchers do not have another ACTs or related method to combat malaria. This could be detrimental if the mutated gene spreads outside Southeast Asia.
Fortunately the mutations to the K13 gene do not provide a strong resistance to malaria treatments. The mutations merely allow the parasite better disguise within red blood cells during its developmental state. This developmental stage is already less vulnerable to artemisinin than the later stages of the disease.
"This allows them to temporarily survive treatment, but it will not be enough for ACTs to fail across Africa, particularly as the partner drugs continue to be highly effective," Dr. David Fidock, professor of microbiology and immunology of medical sciences in medicine at Columbia University Medial Center, says. "But it may be a foundation for parasites to evolve stronger degrees of resistance to these therapies, so we have to watch for increasing resistance very carefully."
More details about the study can be found in the Science journal.