New REEAD technology diagnoses malaria with one drop of blood or saliva


Malaria has been perturbing the world for an estimated 4,000 plus years.

Volumes of the Neh Ching — The Canon of Medicine as written by the Chinese circa 2700 BC — include descriptions of the disease’s feverish effects; several city-state populations in ancient Greece (4th Century BCE) were dealt devastating blows by the sickness’ aggressive coup; and more than 200 million people per year currently come in contact with the affliction.

It’s a disease almost as old as humankind — thankfully treatable by today’s standards — and still nearly half a million people die due to malaria each year. To this end, and with all that has happened in mind, researchers at Aarhus University commenced an investigation into possible new methods to diagnose malaria infections with very high sensitivity. Therein, REEAD emerged.

The newly developed technology, short for Rolling Circle-Enhanced Enzyme Activity Detection, allows physicians and scientists to diagnose malaria with a single drop of blood or saliva. Not only is the method fairly straightforward, it’s also more cost-efficient and time-effective than all other avenues out in the market, researchers posit.

According to Lisbeth Heilesen of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Aarhus University : “The new REEAD-based method distinguishes itself from other quick-test methods because it can measure whether a given Plasmodium infection is resistant to drugs. The newly developed technology is also the only quick-test method that makes it possible to diagnose the less common malaria parasites (P. ovale, P. knowlesi and P. malariae) in addition to the most common Plasmodium parasites (P. falciparum and P. vivax).”

“The unique sensitivity, combined with its ability to detect infection in very small samples of blood or saliva, makes the method suitable for large-scale screening projects,” Heilesen added in a news release. “This is of great importance in areas where the disease is close to being eradicated, and where it is therefore essential to identify and treat all patients infected with one of the above-mentioned parasites – even those who do not show symptoms of the disease.”

The REEAD developers attribute their success predominantly to teamwork — in addition to the Aarhus University cohort, collaborators from Aarhus University Hospital, Duke University, University of Rome, University of St.  Andrews and University of Lyon also contributed to the method’s development.

“This combination of molecular biologists, doctors, engineers and statisticians has been important for our success in developing the new method,” concluded associate professor Birgitta Knudsen, one leader of the project. 

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