Study Shows Artemisinin-Resistant Malaria Parasite Spreading Along Thai-Myanmar Border

A strain of malaria that is resistant to artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) is spreading along the Thai-Myanmar border and has the potential to spread to Africa if efforts to effectively treat and prevent the disease are not undertaken, according to a study published in the Lancet on Friday, Reuters reports (Lyn, 4/5). Since 2008, patients treated with ACT have been slower to clear the parasite than previously, “[a]nd this precursor to resistance seems to be spreading, despite efforts to carefully use artemisinin (by giving it in combination with other drugs) to avoid the emergence of resistance,” Scientific American writes.

In a related study published in Science, researchers examined the genomes of parasites collected in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, and were able to determine “a small area of the genome” that is responsible for resistance, Timothy Anderson of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and a co-author on both studies said, according to the news service (Harmon, 4/5). The finding “gives hope that its spread may be monitored and that new drugs might someday be devised to foil resistance,” NPR’s health blog “Shots” writes. In an editorial accompanying the Lancet study, Anne-Catrin Uhlemann and David Fidock of Columbia University write, “Should these [ACT] regimens fail, no other drugs are ready for deployment, and drug development efforts are not expected to yield new anti-malarials until the end of this decade” and conclude that the international community should “implement all available measures towards malaria elimination while we can,” the blog notes (Knox, 4/5).