Aqsens Health is excited to announce a new research project in collaboration with the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) in Ghana. Together with NMIMR, the goal is to establish E-TRF’s potential to detect malaria from saliva, and potentially develop a new low cost Rapid Diagnostic Test.
Joint effort to detect malaria from saliva
At Aqsens Health we strive to be a part of the development of future health diagnostics solutions that are cost-efficient, accurate and widely available. We are very pleased to announce that we are working in cooperation with the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Ghana to make new discoveries and to see how the E-TRF method can be applied to malaria testing and the development of Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs).
The Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) is the prime medical research institute in Accra, Ghana, and one of the leading biomedical institutes in Western Africa. The institute’s nine departments study a wide range of different diseases and health disorders from non-communicable diseases like cancer to broader issues like malnutrition. In the 21st century, the institute has focused on several high-impact diseases like HIV and AIDS, rotavirus, malaria, and most recently, the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ghana.
The project’s clinical research in Ghana is led by Dr. Linda Amoah, who is a Senior Research Fellow of the Immunology Department at the NMIMR. Dr. Amoah has a long professional history in studying different aspects of malaria and she is currently leading several malaria focused research studies and collaborations at NMIMR. Her main focuses are malaria transmission, diagnostics and the development of new diagnostic methods.
Dr. Amoah’s research interests match Aqsens Health’s research interests and the capabilities of E-TRF well. She highlights the importance of developing a non-invasive malaria diagnostic tool:
“Ideally, when you’re sick, you wouldn’t want to go through the added pain of having an invasive procedure, whether it’s a needle prick or a finger prick. So anything that is non-invasive and sensitive enough to diagnose disease, is something that is laudable. And I think quite a large number of people find it necessary, especially when you’re working with infants or children, who are the most vulnerable when it comes to malaria in addition to pregnant women.”
Malaria in the 21st century
According to WHO, in 2019 nearly half of the world’s population was at risk of contracting malaria. The latest World malaria report states that in 2019 there were approximately 229 million cases. Africa is the most affected continent with over 94% of the world’s malaria cases and deaths, with children and pregnant women being at the highest risk of contracting the disease.
Much like how the overspercription of antibiotics leads to antibiotic-resistant forms of bacteria, the over-administration of antimalarial drugs leads to drug-resistant varieties of malaria parasites. So, the development of accurate diagnostic methods for malaria to ensure rational treatment is as important as the development of antimalarial drugs and malaria vaccinations.
The clinical diagnosis of malaria based on symptoms alone is difficult, because the symptoms of malaria are often nonspecific and overlap with other tropical, febrile illnesses. To avoid misdiagnosis and the overuse of antimalarial medication and antibiotics, improving the reliability, accuracy and accessibility of RDTs further is a vital part of WHO’s malaria management strategy. Malaria diagnostics is also a significant focus at the NMIMR.
“Rapid and effective diagnosis of malaria is very important. Once we’re able to rapidly diagnose in the early stages of the infection, you can treat it before you get into complications. So we are advocating for new and improved diagnostic tools that would help with detecting malaria at an early stage of the infection,” Dr. Amoah summarizes.
“I’m really looking forward to not just initiating the collaboration, but actually coming up with a real product that can actually be used by everybody.”
First steps of the collaboration
The first step in the Aqsens Health and NMIMR research collaboration will be to start the collection of saliva samples in Ghana, after which the samples will be sent to the Aqsens laboratory in Finland for analysis.
“What I’ll be doing in the next few weeks is to collect samples of saliva from people who present to the hospital with malaria. Then we’ll confirm that they actually do have malaria by preparing thin and thick blood smears. And once we determine the level of parasitemia in the person, for now we’re not really going to test the saliva samples here, but we’re actually sending them off to be tested and analysed in the Aqsens laboratory,” Dr. Amoah explains.
“Once things are optimized and the tool is ready for full deployment,” Dr. Amoah continues, “then it will come back here, and we’ll go back to the field and make use of it.”
The Aqsens team in Finland is also equally excited to begin the international research collaboration.
“At Aqsens Health, we are extremely excited to start this project, and we hope that in the future we can continue working together with Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research on different research and development projects,” says Janne Kulpakko, the Chief Scientific Officer of Aqsens Health.