A research team at the University of Florida in the US has created a new non-invasive screening test to detect malaria by using saliva samples.
The new diagnostic method is expected to replace commonly used blood tests that require skin pricks and are considered less effective and reliable. Blood tests also require infrastructure and trained staff.
According to the researchers, the new test requires spitting into a tube and can be performed outside clinical settings.
The saliva test is designed to identify an essential protein required by Plasmodium falciparum parasites for survival. This is intended to address the issue of acquired mutation of the malaria parasite.
It detects female parasites circulating in an infected person who does not display any symptoms but has the parasite and could potentially develop the disease within a week.
Early detection of malaria is expected to enable early treatment as well as prevention and further transmission of the disease.
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University of Florida infectious diseases researcher Rhoel Dinglasan said: “Malaria is like a big iceberg that we’ve always chipped away at on top, above the water line.
“But it’s the bottom of the iceberg, this reservoir for transmission, that we don’t understand because it’s a population that, until now, we could not see. This test takes us below that water line, so we can see how big the reservoir is.”
The test was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and licensed by Johns Hopkins University. It has been assessed in a study involving more than 300 children in Cameroon, Zambia and Sierra Leone.
Findings from the study were published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.
Diagnostic solutions company ERADA Technology Alliance will market the test as a Saliva-based Malaria Asymptomatic and Asexual Rapid Test (SMAART) for subclinical infection.