Study detects African malaria drug resistance

A study has found early resistance to a powerful malaria drug, which suggests that potential resistance may follow in patients in sub-Saharan Africa.

London researchers found resistance to artemether, an effective drug in the artemisinin group used in ACT malaria cocktails, in 11 out of 28 patients who fell ill after traveling to countries in sub-saharan Africa. The study did not look at how the patients actually responded to the drugs, AFP reports.

"Resistance in a test tube usually leads to resistance at some stage down the line in patients," Sanjeev Krishna, the leader of the study, said, according to AFP. "The question is how far down the line. (We did not determine) what that might mean in terms of treatment failure, we have yet to assess. We don't know."

The researchers think that the resistance was caused by genetic mutations in the malaria parasite. In the samples infected by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite that showed resistance, artemether's effectiveness was reduced by approximately half.

"This study confirms our fears of how the parasite is mutating to develop resistance," Krishna said, according to AFP. "Drug resistance could eventually become a devastating problem in Africa, and not just in east Asia where most of the world is watching for resistance."

Approximately 90 percent of the people killed by malaria each year are located in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization estimates that 655,000 people died from malaria in 2010.