Indian medical researchers have found a new way of on-site detection of the most virulent form of malaria, igniting hopes for the development of the first indigenous rapid diagnostic kit against malaria.
The discovery by the scientists at the National Institute of Research in Tribal Health and Rani Durgavati University, both in Jabalpur, can lead to a new diagnostic tool to spot the deadly form of malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum, the disease-causing pathogen.
Though developing the diagnostic kit may take many more years of research, the early signs are promising as per the results obtained in the laboratory.
The mosquito-borne disease continues to be a health worry for India with the Centre fixing the elimination target at 2030.
To achieve the target, the Union Health Ministry in 2017 launched a national strategic plan focusing on 109 districts that account for close to 90% of India’s malaria burden. Quick and accurate diagnosis, an essential for such success, however, remains a challenge.
Majority of malaria
Majority of malaria cases and deaths in India are reported from rural areas of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka, Assam Gujarat and the North- East particularly in regions dominated by tribal population.
The malaria-prone districts are located in hilly, densely forested, remote and inaccessible areas that are often marred by inadequate health care facilities. Since proper laboratories with trained staff are not available in such areas, rapid diagnostic fields offer an easy solution.
But most of the rapid diagnostic tests used for diagnosis of P.falciparum malaria have an in-built problem of generating too many false negative results, necessitating the need for a new or improved malaria diagnosis kit that can be used in the field.
This is where the discovery from NIRTH – one of the institutes under the Indian Council of Medical Research – fits in.
The Indian scientists exploited a gene named Pfgdh (glutamate dehydrogenase) for successful detection. The advantage is that the gene is “highly conserved” in nature with little structural and functional changes across the states.
This was seen in laboratory tests conducted on samples collected from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Tripura.
“Our study provides scientific evidence for the conserved nature of pfgdh gene (or protein) sequences in Indian isolates which can be used as a potential bio-marker for diagnosis of malaria,” the Indian team reported in a recent issue of the journal PLOS One.
“The scientists from NIRTH have proposed a bio-marker on whose basis a new diagnostic tool can be brought out in future. There is no measurement of accuracy at this moment as the test kit is yet to be developed,” NIRTH director Aparup Das, who is not associated with the study told DH.