Scientists have discovered a new way to identify drug-resistant strains of the parasite that causes malaria, Medical News Today reported.
Malaria, which is usually treatable using a drug called artemisinin, occurs when the paraisite P. falciparum enters the blood stream through a mosquito bite. However, in a study published on April 28 in Nature Genetics, researchers say they discovered drug-resistant strains of the malaria-causing parasite in Western Cambodia.
The increase in drug-resistant strains of the parasite is putting hundreds of thousands of lives at risk, according to the World Health Organization.
The report’s co-author Nicholas White, a professor from the Centre for Tropical Medicine at the University of Oxford, said in a statement:
"Artemisinin resistance is an emergency which could derail all the good work of global malaria control in recent years. We desperately need methods to track it in order to contain it, and molecular fingerprinting provides this."
Researchers were able to use new genome sequencing technologies to study the DNA of 825 P. falciparum samples from South East Asia and Africa, Medical News Today reported. By doing this, they were able to identify genetic patterns, or “fingerprints,” for each of the artemisinin-resistant strains.
This is a significant step towards monitoring and eliminating malaria worldwide, the researchers said, because it offers techniques that may allow health officials to monitor the emergence and spread of drug-resistant parasites in real time.
In addition to providing what the researchers describe as "a population-level genetic framework for investigating the biological origins of artemisinin resistance", they believe their findings also provide a way of "defining molecular markers to assist in its elimination.”
"Whilst we have not yet identified the precise mechanism of action or resistance to artemisinin, this research represents substantial progress in that direction," White said.
Their approach may also offer a novel way to detect and track the emergence of drug-resistance on a global level.