The malaria parasite has the ability to evolve and become resistant to the succession of drugs that have been created to treat it. This has baffled researchers, physicians and public health officials worldwide for decades. However, there is some good news about the same. Stephen Rich, microbiologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and his research team have reported that they have developed an effective and sustainable malaria intervention which have shown great promise in laboratory models.
The details were published in an early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new treatment is based on a use of the whole plant Artemesia annua. The drug artemisinin (AN) is extracted from it. Rich and his team found that the whole plant treatment has the ability to withstand the evolution of resistance and remain effective for up to three times longer than the pure drug. It was also found in their experiment that the whole plant therapy was quite effective in killing rodent parasites that were previously known to have evolved to resist pure AN.
The researchers say that their study suggest that there are reason now to explore this inexpensive, non-pharmaceutical treatment for the millions of people who suffer from malaria each year.
Artemisinin is the drug used in treatment of human malaria worldwide. However, resistance to it has now been established in some areas. The researchers of this study have demonstrated the WP approach is more effective at killing rodent malaria when compared to purified AN drug approach. A series of experiments were carried out by Rich and his team to determine rates at which parasites become resistant to their new WP treatment as compared to the resistance rate with pure AN. For this they chose two rodent malaria species with specific characteristics: Plasmodium yoelii as it has an artemisinin-resistant and can test whether the whole plant can overcome that resistance. And a second strain, P. chabaudi, as it most closely biologically resembles the deadliest of the five human malaria parasites, P. falciparum.
The respective evolutionary rates of resistance to WP and AN were determined by conducting artificial evolution experiments which concluded that the WP treatment lasts at least three times longer than its AN counterpart, and at least twice as long as the doubled dose of pure AN.
Rich opined that the results of their study are significant because there have been recent reports of resistance to artemisinin in malaria-endemic regions of the world. The malaria parasites adapt alarmingly fast and clinicians for years have been having tough time combining drugs, particularly AN with others, to try to outmaneuver the parasites’ evolution.
The present study also reveals that dried WP is also effective in overcoming existing resistance to pharmaceutical AN. So, it seems evident that by consuming the whole plant, malaria can be combated more effectively. The reason for that could be that the whole plant may have a naturally occurring combination therapy that augments artemisinin delivery and synergizes the drug’s activity.
Rich also pointed out that while the exact mechanisms of WP’s effectiveness is still not fully identified, there are reasons why the role of non-pharmaceutical forms of artemisinin to treat human malaria should be further explored which includes the demonstrated anti-malarial activity of WP Artemisia against artemisinin-resistant parasites.