Researchers uncover artemisinin-based therapy to combat drug-resistant malaria

Researchers recently discovered a new artemisinin-based treatment therapy for combating drug-resistant malaria, which has increasingly spread throughout Southeast Asia and has made treating the disease difficult for health professionals in the region.

Resistance to artemisinin, the main drug used to treat malaria, has developed among the Plasmodium falciparum parasites that cause the condition, likely as a result of genetic mutation, according to a press release from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

A new treatment that involves a six-day course of artemisinin-based combination therapy, as opposed to the traditional three-day course of treatment, has proven to be highly effective in combating drug-resistant malaria. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Previous studies suggest that malaria-causing parasites with a mutant version of the gene K13-propeller have made the organisms resistant to standard malaria treatment. The researchers found that the geographic spread of the mutant parasites in Western Cambodia corresponds to recent occurrences of drug resistance in malaria patients in the region.

Though artemisinin did continue to eliminate malaria infections, according to the researchers, it did so at a much slower rate. Similar slow-clearing infections were identified in other areas, indicating resistance has spread to other countries including Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

The authors of the study warned that artemisinin resistance and the emergence of resistance to combination drugs used with artemisinin-based therapy could "reverse" gains in malaria control.

"New antimalarial drugs are under development but will not be available for several years," the authors of the study said, the New England Journal of Medicine reports. "Radical measures will be necessary in Southeast Asia to prevent resistance to artemisinins and their partner drugs from spreading to the Indian subcontinent and then to Africa."