Photo: Roderick Dirkzwager of the University of Hong Kong initiated the collaboration by contacting researchers at Burnet.
By Lydia Hales
An opportunity to develop a new method for diagnosing malaria has brought researchers from the University of Hong Kong and Burnet Institute together in a new collaboration.
Roderick Dirkzwager, a PhD student in Associate Professor Julian Tanner’s biochemistry laboratory, part of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine in Hong Kong, initiated the project.
“I approached Dr Jack Richards and Professor James Beeson at Burnet Institute about a possible collaboration on this project and got a positive response, saying they were interested in working together,” Mr Dirkzwager said.
Mr Dirkzwager travelled to Burnet Institute for six weeks for the collaboration with the Richards Laboratory.
The project seeks to develop a new point-of-care test, a similar concept to the Burnet-developed VISITECT® CD4 HIV test.
Using just a drop of blood, the new approach will determine whether a person is infected with malaria.
The researchers are using aptamers (short DNA sequences) they have developed to detect malaria in the bloodstream, rather than the currently used antibodies.
Aptamers offer the advantage of being more stable than antibodies so the tests could be used in hot climates, are cheaper and more-easily produced.
Mr Dirkzwager said there has been a lot of technology development in the Tanner Laboratory, with advances in the use of aptamers in diagnostics, but their lab didn’t have access to clinical samples or facilities to test on real malaria parasites.
The project is already yielding positive results. Using the facilities at Burnet, Mr Dirkzwager has been able to demonstrate that the test can detect the malaria parasites even when present in low numbers.
Dr Richards said the work was exciting because the way it detects the malaria parasite is quite different.
“The ultimate goal is to produce a cheap bedside malaria test, so health workers in resource-poor countries can diagnose malaria instantly and initiate treatment as early as possible,” he said.
“The project is progressing well, and we hope to partner with the Tanner Laboratory for future projects.”