AUSTRALIAN scientists will take a big leap towards eradicating malaria, after securing a $1.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The CSIRO research team will conduct field testing for breath markers of malaria in Malawi, Bangladesh, Sabah province in Malaysia and Sudan over the next 18 months.
Malaria infects hundreds of millions of people and accounts for up to half a million deaths each year.
It follows a discovery by CSIRO, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Australian National University last year, where distinctive chemicals can be detected in the breath of patients infected with the disease.
Suspected malaria cases will provide a breath sample in addition to normal testing and treatment at health clinics. Control patients who aren't infected will also be asked to donate a sample for comparison.
All the chemicals present in the breath will be stabilised in special sample tubes and transported to Canberra or St. Louis for chemical and statistical analysis.
CSIRO research group leader Dr Stephen Trowell says the funding will allow the team to test the accuracy of breath markers under real world conditions.
"Our initial research really opened our eyes to the potential for a new test, because the chemicals that we found in the breath of patients could be detected at the very early stages of infection," Trowell says.
"If this phase of the research pans out, we intend to move onto developing a simple, painless and cheap breath test to help identify people who have malaria but don't know it.
"This would enable better targeting of treatments to stop transmission of the disease."
The main collaborators of the trial are CSIRO, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Menzies School of Health Research and Washington University in the US.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also invested in CSIRO research for the development of high yielding sorghum and cowpea hybrids, and improved productivity of rice and sorghum in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
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