The potential of artemether for the control of schistosomiasis.Int J Parasitol. 2001 Dec; 31(14):1549-62.IJ
Schistosomiasis continues to rank--following malaria--at the second position of the world's parasitic diseases in terms of the extent of endemic areas and the number of infected people. There is yet no vaccine available and the current mainstay of control is chemotherapy with praziquantel used as the drug of choice. In view of concern about the development of tolerance and/or resistance to praziquantel, there is a need for research and development of novel drugs for the prevention and cure of schistosomiasis. Interestingly, derivatives of artemisinin, which are already effectively used in the treatment of malaria, also exhibit antischistosomal properties. Significant advances have been made with artemether, the methyl ether derivative of artemisinin. We review the discovery of the antischistosomal activity of artemether by Chinese scientists two decades ago; the detailed laboratory studies of the susceptibility of, and effect on, the different developmental stages of Schistosoma japonicum, Schistosoma mansoni and Schistosoma haematobium to artemether; the possible mechanism of action and the potential long-term toxicity. Finally, we look at the effect of combined treatment with artemether and praziquantel; and clinical findings thus far obtained from randomised controlled trials with oral artemether for the prevention of patent infections and morbidity. The review intends to create a forum for strategic discussion of how these laboratory and clinical findings could be translated into public health actions. We conclude that artemether--as part of integrated current control measures and adapted to specific socio-ecological and epidemiological settings--has considerable potential to significantly reduce the current burden of schistosomiasis in many parts of the world.