Australian scientists will be field testing their ground-breaking breath markers for malaria, thanks to a $1.4 million research grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A CSIRO research team will be leading collaborative validation trials in locations with high malaria incidence including Malawi, Bangladesh, Sabah province in Malaysia and Sudan.
This next stage of development follows on from the exciting discovery by scientists at the CSIRO, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Australian National University, where the research identified distinctive chemicals that can be detected in the breath of patients infected with malaria.
“Our initial research really opened our eyes to the potential for a new test, because the chemicals that we found in the breath of patients could be detected at the very early stages of infection,” Research Group Leader at CSIRO Dr Stephen Trowell said.
“Thanks to this new funding from the Gates Foundation, we can now test the accuracy and effectiveness of the breath markers under real world conditions.
“If this phase of the research pans out, we intend to move onto developing a simple, painless and cheap breath test to help identify people who have malaria but don’t know it.
“This would enable better targeting of treatments to stop transmission of the disease.”
The research trial will bring together expertise across a range of scientific and medical disciplines, along with extensive knowledge of the unique challenges faced in specific geographical zones.
The main collaborators are CSIRO, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Menzies School of Health Research (with their collaborators in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Sudan) and Washington University in St. Louis, USA (with their collaborators in Malawi).
The validation trials involve asking people with suspected malaria to provide a breath sample, in addition to normal testing and treatment that they receive at health clinics.
Some ‘control’ patients who are not suspected to have malaria will also be asked to donate a breath sample for comparison.
All the chemicals present in the breath will be stabilised in special sample tubes and transported to Canberra or St. Louis for chemical and statistical analysis.
Emerging mosquito borne diseases such as the Zika virus are in the news a lot, but malaria continues to make hundreds of millions of people sick and accounts for up to half a million fatalities each year.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is continuing to invest in new interventions including highly sensitive diagnostic tools, the development of a simple breath test for malaria could play a significant role in future disease eradication campaigns.
This grant follows recent investment by the foundation in CSIRO research for the development of high yielding sorghum and cowpea hybrids, and improved productivity of rice and sorghum in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.