Both studies, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the National Institutes of Health, follow reports in 2009 of the emergence of artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites in western Cambodia, 800km away from the Thailand-Myanmar border where the new cases of resistance have been observed. Resistance to artemisinin makes the drugs less effective and could eventually render them obsolete, putting millions of lives at risk.
According to the World Malaria Report 2011, malaria killed an estimated 655,000 people in 2010, mainly young children and pregnant women. It is caused by parasites that are injected into the bloodstream by infected mosquitoes. Plasmodium falciparum is responsible for nine out of ten deaths from malaria.
Over this period, the average time taken to reduce the number of parasites in the blood by a half – known as the ‘parasite clearance half-life’ – increased from 2.6 hours in 2001 to 3.7 hours in 2010, a clear sign that the drugs were becoming less effective. The proportion of slow-clearing infections – defined as a half-life of over 6.2 hours – increased over this same period from six to 200 out of every 1000 infections.
By examining the genetic make-up of the parasites, the researchers were able to provide compelling evidence that the decline in the parasite clearance rates was due to genetic changes in the parasites which had made them resistant to the drugs.
The Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Programme is one of the Wellcome Trust’s major overseas programmes, working to achieve the Trust’s strategic priorities, which include combating infectious diseases.
Dr Jimmy Whitworth, Head of International Activities at the Wellcome Trust, said: “These two studies highlight the importance of being vigilant against the emergence of drug resistance. Researchers will need to monitor these outbreaks and follow them closely to make sure they are not spreading. Preventing the spread of artemisinin resistance to other regions is imperative, but as we can see here, it is going to be increasingly difficult. It will require the full force of the scientific and clinical communities, working together with health policymakers.”
Further reports about: > African public sector > Biomedical > Cambodia > Emergence > Malaria > Medicine > Myanmar > P. falciparum > Plasmodium falciparum > Thailand > Tropical Medicine > Tropical Medicine Research > Trust > Trust-Mahidol > University-Oxford > antimalarial drug > candidate genes > drug resistance > health services > malaria parasite > tropical diseases
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