Malaria is a parasite that infects about 200 million people annually, according the World Health Organization. The disease exists in tropical and sub-tropical climates like much of the developing world, where effective, low-cost healthcare solutions are needed. Recently, GE Global Research and GE Ventures have partnered with Global Good to develop an improved diagnostic platform that will be a step towards the goal of eradicating malaria.
The challenge is twofold. First, the test must be accurate, broadly available, low-cost and require minimal user training and infrastructure. Second, the test needs to accurately diagnose both symptomatic patients and asymptomatic patients, the latter within whom the parasite remains latent or dormant but who contribute to spreading the disease. Today, existing solutions tackle diagnosis in symptomatic patients, albeit sometimes inadequately, but miss infection in asymptomatic patients, resulting in the cycle of infection continuing.
To achieve the accurate, low-cost test described above, we are developing a new lateral flow assay (LFA) and a reader to improve the sensitivity of current tests. We have a diverse team working on these goals, including optical, mechanical, thermal, and electrical engineers to take the initial prototypes from Global Good and redesign them to improve performance, reduce cost, and enable manufacturability. The reader itself will increase the sensitivity of current commercial LFAs to more accurately diagnose symptomatic patients.
However, to achieve even further improvement and screen for latent infections, an advanced LFA is needed. Here, we have chemical engineers, biologists, chemists and materials scientists working to optimize the LFA through improved optical properties, reducing background, and increasing signal that will allow us to best take advantage of the reader technology. To do this, we are leveraging the suite of materials that GE Healthcare offers in the in vitro diagnostics market, as well as technology that we have been developing at the research center, including technology we have developed for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). We expect that the combination of these technologies will stack up to provide the performance necessary to make a real impact on the way malaria is treated. Additionally, when successful, we plan to adapt this diagnostics platform to target other infectious diseases that persist around the world.