American, French and Cambodian researchers came up with two new diagnostic tests they say create quick and easy ways to detect malaria patients' resistance to a super-potent drug treatment. And those tests, in turn, should spur new drug-development efforts.
As National Public Radio reports, the tests should help energize treatment efforts in the developing world, which has struggled with the emergence of drug-resistant strains in recent decades. NIH, the Institut Pasteur in France and the Cambodian National Malaria Center came up with the new diagnostic options, and The Lancet Infectious Diseases published their findings in detail.
One diagnostic, according to the NPR story, is structured to see how well a specific patient's malaria parasite responds to the drug artemisinin and works within 6 hours. The researchers created a more complex, separate test that looks at the malaria parasite at its earliest possible stage to see how it becomes resistant to the treatment. Together, as NPR's online report explains, the tests also help track the spread of treatment-resistant malaria parasites in entire communities. That's key, because then health officials can target control of the offending mosquitoes.
But crucially important for drug developers, being able to zero in on malaria parasites that resist artemisinin--considered the strongest anti-malaria drug out there--is the first step toward developing new treatments. Identifying genes that cause the resistance gives drug companies a target to hit with novel treatments that the parasite can't resist.