AsianScientist (Apr. 19, 2016) – An international team of researchers has found that resistance to a key anti-malarial drug cannot be passed on by mosquitoes.
The researchers believe that this finding, published in Science, could drastically improve the way we battle the disease by potentially shutting down the avenue for mass drug resistance to spread. This makes malaria treatment significantly more effective for the 3.2 billion people at risk worldwide.
Led by the University of Melbourne, the present study focused on the drug atovaquone, introduced in 2000 and safe for pregnant women and children. It is one of the few anti-malarials that can be used in mass administration approaches, but was largely phased out of use because resistance was initially observed.
However, the study reveals that although some malaria parasites had developed a genetic mutation that protected them against the drug in early life, the mutation eventually killed the parasites by stopping production of an essential type of energy as they grew.
The researchers studied both a model strain of rodent malaria and a deadly strain of human malaria to confirm the resistant parasites could not be spread by mosquitoes, thereby preventing the re-infection of humans.
Lead authors Professor Geoff McFadden and Dr. Dean Goodman from the School of Biosciences are calling it a ‘genetic trap’ that could prove to be a significant step forward in the anti-malaria fight.
“These results are very exciting because the spread of drug resistance is currently destroying our ability to control malaria,” said McFadden.
“We now understand the particular genetic mutation that gave rise to drug resistance in some malaria parasite populations and how it eventually kills them in the mosquito, providing new targets for the development of drugs.”
McFadden added that they are the first group to follow the drug resistant malaria parasite through its entire life cycle to understand what happens after drug resistance initially develops and whether they pass on resistance.
“Our next challenge will be to look for any spread of this drug resistance in field settings such as Kenya and Zambia. We are hopeful that with the development of cheaper generic forms of the drug atovaquone, that there is a new hope in the treatment of malaria.”
The article can be found at: Goodman et al. (2016) Parasites Resistant to the Antimalarial Atovaquone Fail to Transmit by Mosquitoes.
Source: University of Melbourne.
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