Danish researchers have developed a method of diagnosing malaria from a single drop of blood or saliva.
The method might eventually be used in low-resource areas without the need for specially trained personnel, expensive equipment, clean water or electricity.
Malaria, a life-threatening disease that affects more than 200 million people every year, is caused by the plasmodium parasite, which is spread by infected mosquito bites.
Large-scale monitoring and treatment programmes have reduced the distribution of the disease but the number of malaria patients with relatively low infection counts has increased, necessitating more sensitive methods of diagnosing the disease.
Researchers at Aarhus University claim to have developed a new method that can diagnose malaria infections with very high sensitivity. The method is said to be based on measuring the activity of an enzyme called topoisomerase I from the plasmodium parasite.
The researchers have developed a technology called REEAD (Rolling Circle-Enhanced Enzyme Activity Detection), which makes it possible to diagnose malaria from a single drop of blood or saliva.
This method is said to be much more time-effective and cost-effective than current diagnostic methods, and can be performed by personnel who have no specialised training.
The fight against malaria is complicated by increasing problems with resistant plasmodium parasites. In addition, several plasmodium species (p. vivaxand p. knowlesi) cannot be detected with quick-test methods.
The new REEAD-based method distinguishes itself from other quick-test methods because it can measure whether a given plasmodium infection is resistant to drugs.
The newly developed technology is also the only quick-test method that makes it possible to diagnose the less common malaria parasites (p. ovale, p. knowlesi and p. malariae), in addition to the most common plasmodium parasites (p. falciparum and p. vivax).
The device’s sensitivity, combined with its ability to detect infection in very small samples of blood or saliva, makes it suitable for large-scale screening projects.