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World’s First Rapid POC Diagnostic Test Could Detect ‘Insidious’ Malaria Infections

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 07 Feb 2023
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Image: The first point-of-care rapid diagnostic test can detect people at risk of malaria reinfection (Photo courtesy of WEHI)
Image: The first point-of-care rapid diagnostic test can detect people at risk of malaria reinfection (Photo courtesy of WEHI)

Each year, there are over 200 million cases of malaria and about 620,000 deaths across the world. Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium vivax parasite, which gets transmitted to humans via the bite of an infected mosquito. The Plasmodium vivax parasite poses a challenge as it can remain dormant in the liver for years, but reawaken later to continue spreading the disease. Now, new research aims to develop and deploy the world’s first diagnostic test for detecting 'insidious' malaria infections and accelerating malaria eradication.

Two projects by The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI, Melbourne, Australia) have received new funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC, Canberra, Australia) to develop and deploy a test that is capable of detecting people with ‘hidden’ Plasmodium vivax. This malaria parasite is still the most widespread and resilient due to its ability to stay dormant in the liver for years. The funding will aid the development of the first such point-of-care rapid diagnostic test and deployment of its laboratory version in the Philippines.

The WEHI researchers had earlier developed a test that can accurately tell when an individual has been infected with the parasite and if there is a risk of relapse. The team will now develop a rapid point-of-care diagnostic test based on this earlier research. The researchers will first deploy a high throughput, laboratory version of the diagnostic test in the Philippines. They will leverage the expertise of research teams in the U.S. and Philippines to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach in order to focus their efforts on the Sultan Kudarat province where there have been Plasmodium vivax outbreaks recently.

In order to efficiently eliminate the Plasmodium vivax parasite, malaria control programs need tools to detect areas where there is ongoing transmission, and identify and treat people with dormant infections. The new test could be a game-changer for malaria control programs which have been struggling for decades to eliminate this relapsing parasite, according to the researchers. The team hopes that their research could assist in malaria eradication in the Philippines, as well as across East Asia. The generated data could be used to shape locally suitable and evidence-based interventions for improving the Philippines’ health policies.

“Being able directly target hidden liver-stage parasites is crucial for successful vivax elimination because they can be responsible for over 80% of all blood-stage infections. Unfortunately, there are currently no tests that can accurately detect who is carrying this insidious parasite in their bodies,” said Professor Ivo Mueller, a world expert in the biology, epidemiology and control of P. vivax malaria. “Our test is the closest the scientific world has come to tracking and predicting these ‘hidden’ infections and we are thrilled to start translating these findings to a rapid diagnostic test to improve the lives of those affected by the malarial health burden.”

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