New treatment for malaria?
The most recently developed type of treatment for malaria actually has very ancient origins. The herb wormwood (Artemisia annua) has been used in ancient Chinese medicine for hundreds, even thousands, of years to cure certain fevers.
In the 1970s, a Chinese research program intensively sought new medications against malaria, as part of their Vietnam war effort. They re-discovered wormwood, and from it isolated the compound artemisinin, which is highly effective against malaria parasites in the blood, and kills them very quickly. Due to its quick action against malaria, there was concern that use of artemisinin alone would lead to resistance developing rapidly in the malaria parasite, as was seen with chloroquine in many parts of the world. As such, the World Health Organisation recommended that artemisinin should only be used in combination with another anti-malarial drug with a longer lasting action, to prevent resistance.
A number of such compounds, containing artemisinin derivatives and a second anti-malarial, have now been developed. These are collectively called “artemisinin-based combination therapies,” or ACTs. Some of the main artemisinin compounds used in these drugs are artemether, artesunate and dihydroartemisinin, and the brand names of the drugs as they are marketed (in combination with other compounds, such as lumefantrine, piperaquine and pyronaridine) include Coartem, Pyramax and Duo-Cotecxin.
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