NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials researchers at the University of Fribourg’s Adolphe Merkle Institute (AMI) have discovered a novel method to detect the presence of malaria parasites in blood samples. This is now being applied to develop a tool for the detection of asymptomatic infections .
NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials Prinicpal Investigator Prof. Nico Bruns and his Macromolecular Chemistry team at AMI, in collaboration with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (SwissTPH) and the Department of Medicine of the University of Fribourg, investigated hemozoin, which is generated by the malaria parasite when it digests hemoglobin, a vital oxygen-carrying protein found in red blood cells. To observe the presence of this biomarker, the scientists considered using polymer formation as an indicator.
Hemozoin was used to catalyze a polymerization reaction that leads to precipitation of the polymer at a temperature above 33 °C. The polymer solution passes from a transparent state to a cloudy one, and the speed of the reaction is directly correlated to the concentration of the malarial biomarker. Furthermore, very small amounts of hemozoin are enough to kick start a reaction.
The results of this study, published in the journal Nature Communications, have been implemented as part of an application project at AMI. Led by Dr. Jonas Pollard, the Hemolytics team is currently establishing a diagnostic method for malaria. This new tool could lead to more sensitive parasite detection, and help reduce healthcare costs. The test is specifically designed to discover asymptomatic carriers at risk of transmitting the disease, who could hinder complete eradication of malaria.
Funding for the project has already been obtained from different sources, including the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Novartis Foundation for Medical-Biological Research, a Bridge grant from Innosuisse and the Swiss National Science Foundation, and another from the Gebert Rüf Foundation. It was also given the third prize earlier this year at the Ypsomed Innovation Fund’s Innovation Award for research, development and technology transfer. Initial testing has taken place in Brazil and a patent is pending.
Reference: Rifaie-Graham, O.; Pollard, J.; Raccio, S.; Balog, S.; Rusch, S.; Hernández-Castañeda, M.A.; Mantel, P.Y.; Beck, H.P.; Bruns, N. Hemozoin-catalyzed precipitation polymerization as an assay for malaria diagnosis, Nature Communications, 2019, 1369