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Genetic marker found for drug-resistant malaria parasites

A health worker looks at malaria samples under a microscope at a Pailin province health centre in 2012. Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP
A health worker looks at malaria samples under a microscope at a Pailin province health centre in 2012. Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Genetic marker found for drug-resistant malaria parasites

A group of researchers have identified a genetic marker able to detect malaria parasites resistant to piperaquine – a drug that has been used in Cambodia since 2008 in combination with artemisinin – according to a new study.

The findings of the study, published on Thursday in the medical journal the Lancet, pave the way for health officials to better monitor drug resistance and provide alternative effective treatment.

Genetic markers that predict failure of artemisinin combination therapy “are urgently needed to monitor the spread of partner drug resistance, and to recommend alternative treatments in Southeast Asia and beyond”, the study says.

Francois Nosten of the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, a field station for tropical medicine faculty at Mahidol University in Bangkok, said the researchers’ findings were a major advancement for Cambodia and the region.

“It allows us to track the progression of resistance to this important drug – piperaquine,” he said in an email. “It confirms that [after] the fall of the artemisinins, the partner drugs are now failing as well.”

Scientists at the Pasteur Institute and the National Malaria Control program participated in the research. Researchers at the institute and Huy Rekol, director of the National Malaria Centre couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.

As of late August, a total of 13,370 malaria cases, but no deaths, had been reported this year.

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