Burnet Institute has played a key role in the development of new tests to measure exposure to the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum (Pf), essential to guide and evaluate malaria control interventions.
Current approaches based on responses to a small number of selected antigens can produce precise exposure estimates at low cost, but are not designed to detect short-term or gradual changes, or estimate Pf exposure in individuals.
Using data-adaptive statistical methods, the research team, including Burnet’s Head, Centre for Biomedical Research, Professor James Beeson, identified combinations of antibody responses that maximised information on an individual’s recent exposure to Pf.
The research, published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved the evaluation of responses to 856 Pf antigens in 186 Ugandan children, for whom detailed Pf exposure data was available.
“Responses to three novel Pf antigens accurately classified whether an individual had been infected within the last 30, 90, or 365 days, whereas responses to six antigens accurately estimated an individual’s malaria incidence in the prior year,” the researchers said.
The research data also suggests that precise estimates of community exposure can be obtained from sampling a small subset of that community.
The research team believes this new approach can be transformed into high-throughput, low-cost, field-based tests useful for surveillance of malaria, and has the potential to be translated into similar tools for other infectious diseases.