29 April 2016

New malaria test spot on

Laurens Manning holding up a card
WA Health researcher and FutureHealth Merit Award recipient Laurens Manning

A WA Health clinician's 'near-miss' for national research funding last year has contributed to the development of what could become a valuable new tool for measuring drug levels in blood.

Malaria researcher and Fiona Stanley Hospital infectious diseases physician Laurens Manning and co-researchers at the University of Western Australia and Curtin University of Technology have developed a dried blood spot (DBS) test that could become a simple and cost-effective alternative to standard approaches used for measuring blood drug concentrations.

Although the test was designed specifically to measure concentrations of antimalarial and antibiotic medications in children living in remote and resource-poor areas of Papua New Guinea, Dr Manning says the test potentially has much wider applications.

Unlike existing tests, the new blood assay needs only a small amount of blood (which can be taken from a fingerprick) and is kept dry on a piece of blotting paper until the time of analysis when it can be re-extracted from the paper.

The ease with which blood can be taken, the stability of the DBS and the cost-effectiveness of the test, could make it a valuable test for use in remote parts of Australia and other settings with limited access to medical and laboratory-testing facilities.

Ironically further development of the DBS technology stemmed from Dr Manning narrowly missing a grant in last year’s round of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding. He had sought the grant to investigate new therapies for treating children with malaria.

The 'near miss' made him eligible for a FutureHealth WA Merit award which gave him the means to extend the technology to antimalarial medications.

The Merit Awards were established under the FutureHealth WA initiative to help Western Australian researchers strengthen their grant applications in order to improve their prospects of success in future NHMRC funding rounds.

Only researchers identified by the NHMRC as having been close to obtaining a grant were eligible for the awards.

Dr Manning says that should he be successful in this year’s funding round, the DBS assay will significantly aid his team’s ability to gather data.

Dr Manning hopes to pursue two key lines of research – one an investigation of the effectiveness of a sublingual (under the tongue) spray for administering antimalarial medication to children with life-threatening malaria and the other, an assessment of a shorter dosing schedule of a medication to clear dormant liver parasites in children carrying the less severe form of the mosquito-borne disease.

Measuring medication uptake and the rate of uptake in both groups would be integral to the studies and the DBS test would make it easier to obtain and analyse samples.

Dr Manning said children from whom the blood samples would be taken were treated in health centres with limited facilities and inconsistent electricity supply so the new test would be more suited to the conditions than standard tests.

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