Michigan State develops blood Dx for childhood malaria complication

Michigan State University researchers, working with their counterparts at the University of Malawi, say they've come up with a blood test that can spot children more likely to develop an especially dangerous form of malaria. Details of the breakthrough are published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The malaria parasite produces the HRP2 protein, and the new diagnostic screens for HRP2 levels in the blood. Low levels of HRP2 made it unlikely that children would develop cerebral malaria, the researchers found. But high HRP2 levels showed that the more-dangerous form of the disease was more likely to hit. The former diagnosis would allow children to be treated with oral drugs and sent on their way. The latter, more serious diagnosis would allow for a more aggressive medical intervention to save children's lives.

This is a diagnostic test that is greatly needed in the developing world. As MSU notes, children who develop cerebral malaria have a 20% mortality rate or higher if the disease isn't treated in its early stages. But 90% of malaria deaths in children take place in Africa, even as about 1% of children who face malaria progress to the more deadly cerebral malaria.

It is a great advance that's not yet portable for Africa and other developing regions of the world. The researchers say their test is costly in its current form and not easy to use in current clinics, but they're working hard to develop a cheaper, portable iteration.

A number of researchers and companies are focused on developing new diagnostics for the developing world that address malaria and other infectious diseases. Last month the U.K.'s Lumora, a molecular diagnostic company, disclosed it would work with the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics to develop a malaria assay. The technology at play will also be able to test for a broader menu of diseases, including HIV.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract