James O'Donnell, Research Assistant in the Beeson/Richards Laboratory, Centre for Biomedical Research
A new diagnostic test developed by Burnet Institute researchers to inform the safe use of antimalarial drugs is about to be applied where it’s most needed, in Bangladesh.
One of the major challenges to the successful elimination of malaria in this region is the treatment of the malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax (P. vivax), which can lie dormant and undetectable in the liver for years.
Primaquine is the only drug available that can successfully kill P. vivax in its dormant form, however Primaquine is potentially lethal in patients deficient in the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD).
G6PD deficiency is the most common human enzyme deficiency in the world and most prevalent in malaria endemic areas where primaquine treatment is needed, such as South and South-East Asia.
An understanding of the patient’s G6PD status prior to drug administration is crucial, but current testing methods are limited and not always available in resource limited malaria endemic regions.
To address this, Burnet has developed a simple, high throughput (automated) and cost-effective test to screen for G6PD deficiency, and James O’Donnell has travelled to Dhaka to train staff at the International Centre for Diarrheal Diseases in its use.
“There’s lots of tests for G6PD out there, but the sensitivity and specificity vary,” Mr O’Donnell, a research assistant in the Richards Laboratory, Centre for Biomedical Research, said.
“There are tests that don’t work in hot climates, the main lab test takes time and needs a lot of incubations, and the main point of care test is also really arduous – it needs a UV lamp and a water bath.
“The beauty of our test is its simplicity. It’s a lot cheaper than the current lab-based gold standard, and it’s high throughput.
“We need to see how people pick it up. It’s easy for us to do here, we fly through the samples, but whether or not it can be picked up, transported easily, that’s what we need to find out.”
Burnet is collaborating in this study with the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin.