MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

NIAID researchers find important link to fighting drug-resistant malaria

A research team, including scientists from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, conducted a recent study on how to identify artemisinin-resistant malaria on a molecular level.

Plasmodium Falciparum is one of the parasites that cause malaria. It is also the specific parasite that has developed a resistance to artemisinin, the first-line drug for treating this type of malaria infection. The new study, which was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, gives hope in the fight against this difficult-to-treat disease.

Artemisinin-resistant malaria thrives in Southeast Asia. The World Health Organization estimated that approximately 627,000 people died in 2012 as a result of malaria infection. The NIAID research team hopes their research can help fight malaria by knowing which drugs to give which patient based on the strain with which they are infected.

The research team began their studies by sequencing the entire genetic data of a laboratory-generated artemisinin-resistant P. falciparum parasite and of resistant and susceptible parasites found in Cambodia. The team then looked for links between the parasites that could give clues to the drug resistance.

The researchers found that P. falciparum parasites with a mutant K13-propeller were more likely to develop a resistance to artemisinin. The researchers also looked at the epidemiology of the malaria strain in Cambodia, and it matched the hypothesis that the area where this type of parasite resides is also an area with a high number of cases of drug-resistant malaria.

Researchers will continue their studies to determine what causes the K13-propeller mutation and if the same mutation is present in P. falciparum parasites in other areas of the world.