First diagnostic saliva test for malaria to launch

Microscope and equipment showing new Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre
ERADA’s SMAART saliva test detects a unique biomarker from female parasites.

ERADA Technology Alliance Ltd (ERADA) has announced the imminent launch of a ground-breaking diagnostic saliva test for malaria.

The saliva-based diagnostic tool, to be marketed by ERADA as a Saliva-based Malaria Asymptomatic and Asexual Rapid Test (SMAART) for subclinical infection, could transform malaria detection worldwide.

Globally, malaria kills an estimated 435,000 each year, mostly children under the age of five, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The SMAART detection tool is the invention of leading U.S. based researchers in the field of malaria diagnostics. Their study was published January 2 in the international journal, Science Translational Medicine.

ERADA’s SMAART-1 easy-to-use saliva test leads to early detection, treatment and prevention of the disease as well as reducing further transmission of malaria. The innovative solution is easy-to-use and includes a simple device for standardised collection of saliva that can be implemented in the community by health care professionals, teachers and parents. This is in contrast to invasive blood tests, which must be administered by trained clinicians. Other drawbacks to blood tests include cultural ‘blood taboos’ which exist in many countries and the fact that skin-prick tests are often stressful for children and parents.

Existing tests using blood may invariably be less reliable because subclinical infections with malaria-carrying parasites can be missed, leading some patients to come down with the disease, without knowing they have already been infected.

ERADA’s SMAART saliva test detects a unique biomarker from female parasites circulating in an infected human who is asymptomatic, but is carrying the parasite and likely to come down with malaria within a week. Early, subclinical detection of malaria is crucial to malaria eradication because individuals who carry the parasite without exhibiting symptoms, known as carriers, are the reservoir that leads to infection of mosquitoes and transmission of the disease. Detecting the presence of the parasite before symptoms appear can save lives because malaria visible disease only erupts a couple of days after the mosquito bite.

The SMAART detection tool works by detecting a novel biomarker for Plasmodium falciparum parasites. In some areas of the world, the parasites have acquired a mutation and are therefore no longer detected by current blood-based tests. But ERADA’s saliva test detects an essential protein the parasite needs for survival, which should avoid the problem of influence from the mutation and keep the test effective long-term.

Dr Benji Pretorius, ERADA’s founder and Managing Director, said: “As a practicing clinician myself and following my personal experience of this debilitating disease, I was spurred on to work with my colleague Dr Richard Schmidt in our small community, Musina, in South Africa, together with a global team of scientists.

“The introduction of SMAART is going to play a major part in achieving effective diagnostic testing and surveillance; as well as prevention and treatment of this disease, and therefore will be a major catalyst in meeting the WHO’s 2030 target to reduce malaria incidence and mortality by 90%.”