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Identifying Severe Malaria with a new Aptamer-based Rapid diagnostic Test

SMART project.jpg
November 2021-November 2024
Claudio Parolo
Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación - Agencia Estatal De Investigación. Convocatoria 2020 de PROYECTOS DE I+D+i

In the context of personalized medicine, the SMART project aims at developing a new diagnostic tool able to precisely diagnose malaria at the point of care. Globally malaria is a life -threatening disease, affecting over 200M and killing over 400k people ever year. Although Europe has been declared free of malaria, nowadays is the most imported parasitic disease in Spain, with around 1000 cases per year and with a not negligible mortality rate of 1-3%. This numbers are almost unacceptable taking into account that exist a highly effective treatment (artemisin based combination therapies). Hence, the diagnosis is the key cornerstone of this disease, since a rapid and accurate diagnosis would lead to a prompt initiation of the treatment and consequently to avoid a huge number of deaths. 

In the same lines, at the moment malaria can be precisely diagnosed just using laboratory-based techniques (i.e. microscopic and PCR techniques), which require days, specialized personnel and equipment. In addition, these requirements are scarce in endemic countries and are not totally implemented in Spain, leading to a delay in the treatment initiation since the patients must be transferred to reference units.  Alternatively, the use of antigenic rapid tests do provide a quicker response, but their sensitivity and specificity often lead to false results and are in consequence far from being the gold standard technique. As a result, it is evident the lack of quick and reliable diagnostic devices that could overcome the mentioned weaknesses. 

In response, we plan to develop a test able to combine the bioanalytical performance of laboratory-based tests with the speed and portability of rapid tests. In order to achieve this, we will first conduct a biomarker discovery study on samples obtained from 90 patients (divided into control group, as well as severe and non-severe cases) that attended the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona between 2015 and 2020. This study aims to select new biomarkers that comparing with the standard microscopic techniques, can perform as a reliable tool to diagnose malaria. Then, based on those results, we will develop new aptamer-based electrochemical sensors capable to precisely quantify in under 5 minutes the presence of those biomarkers in undiluted patient samples. Finally, we will incorporate the sensors into a convenient paper-based platform.

This is one of the first attempts to apply these techniques in the malaria field, and will provide the requirements above mentioned to improve the management of the disease, since the develop of the sensor and the platform provides both the portability required for its wide deployment (i.e. any health care facility or pharmacy) as well as a level of automation (thanks to the intrinsic capillarity of paper) that allows the use by non-trained personnel in any facility (e.g., travelers,  airport workers , social institutions). 

We believe that the SMART project has the potential to revolutionize the way we diagnose malaria, and therefore can have a great impact in the whole management of the disease, which would lead to decrease the number of deaths from malaria in Spain (and worldwide) as well as could protect travelers carrying the device with them.

Total funding

181,500 €

Nuestro equipo


ISGlobal Team

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