New technique measures malaria risk in infants

Researchers working in Papua New Guinea recently developed a new technique that determines the risk infants face in developing clinical malaria in malaria endemic countries.

The new molecular technique has the potential to provide a valuable tool for those evaluating new malaria prevention strategies and vaccines, according to

Professor Ivo Mueller from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute said that the researchers discovered that the number of new malaria parasites that infants acquire over a period of time in endemic countries can be linked to the risk that the child will eventually develop the clinical disease.

"It was very clear that infection with new and genetically different malaria parasites was the single biggest factor in determining the risk of an infant becoming sick from malaria, more than any other factor including age, the use of bed nets or the risk of transmission in the area," Muellor said, reports. "We were actually surprised by how clear the correlation was."

Scientists at the Department of Medical Parasitology and Infection Biology at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute were able to genetically differentiate the Plasmodium falciparum parasites. The Bioinformatics division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia then used mathematical algorithms to process the collected data.

"This new research tool is elegantly simple but very powerful, and easily applicable in many circumstances, without a high level of technology or training," Dr. Ingrid Felger of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute said, reports. "We think it could have profound applications. This technology will be particularly useful for assessing ideal vaccine candidates for preventing malaria, help to develop better ways of performing future human trials of new potential malaria vaccines, and identifying the mechanism of action for existing vaccines and treatments."

The technique was created as a collaborative effort by scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, the University of Basel and the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research.