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Researchers attack Mekong malaria superbug on multiple fronts

Fears grow that drug-resistant strains will jump from Southeast Asia to Africa

Blood samples from patients in MORU's malaria studies ready for analysis. (Photo by Gerhard Jörén (c) 2017 Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit.

BANGKOK -- Medical researchers are inching their way across the fringes of five Southeast Asian countries to test a triple combination therapy of antimalarial drugs. Results from the trial, being conducted in rural corners of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, are due by mid-2018, according to the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU), the Bangkok-based group conducting the tests.

Arjen Dondorp, head of malaria at MORU, said the triple therapy is urgently needed to treat patients stricken by a killer strain of the malaria parasite spread by mosquitoes around the Mekong River, Southeast Asia's largest body of water. "We have been doing studies for a triple artemisinin combination therapy -- artemisinin plus two partner drugs -- for the last two years," he said. Artemisinin, which has been dubbed a "wonder drug," has its roots in an ancient Chinese herbal therapy, and has helped to slash malaria deaths by clearing malaria parasites from the bloodstream in 48 hours.

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