Malaria Gene Becoming Resistant to Most Effective Drug in Africa

New evidence suggests that the fight against malaria is becoming even more difficult.

New evidence suggests that the fight against malaria is becoming even more difficult.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine revealed that Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly malaria parasite, with an ap2mu gene mutation have built a tolerance to the most effective antimalarial drug, artemisinin. If a case of malaria gets severe enough, it can lead to acute kidney failure, cerebral malaria, or hyperparasitemia — just to name a few conditions cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our findings could be a sign of much worse things to come for malaria in Africa,” lead author Colin Sutherland said in a news release. “The malaria parasite is constantly evolving to evade our control effort.”

By genetically altering the ap2mu gene in the parasite, like it would do naturally as found in Kenya, the team was able to observe any potential changes in resistance. Not only did the results show that 32% more of the artemisinin was needed to kill the parasite, but it was also 42.4% less sensitive to another antimalarial drug, quinine.

“We’ve already moved away from using quinine to treat cases as the malaria parasite has become more resistant to it, but if further drug resistance were to develop against our most valuable malaria drug, artemisinin, we would be facing a grave situation,” Sutherland informed.

The findings, documented in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, revealed that ap2mu can adjust to various drugs. This discovery presents a serious threat for present and future malaria cases.

“We now know that the gene ap2mu is an important factor in determining how well our drugs kill malaria parasites,” Southerland said. “We will be conducting laboratory and field studies to more accurately measure the impact of mutations in the ap2mu gene.”

More than 500,000 people, mostly children under the age of 5, die from malaria every year, the World Health Organization assessed. Even though this new study more challenges in the battle with malaria, the additional information can help researchers with developing treatments and monitoring the disease.