Biomarkers in Malaria
An individual infected with malaria parasites carries various biochemical molecules, some unique and not found in uninfected individuals, some not unique but significantly more abundant in certain forms of the infection; such molecules are known as ‘biomarkers’. While many biomarkers have been described in cancer research, where some have already a place in routine patient care, the field is still in its infancy for malaria. The study of biomarkers has been boosted in recent years by major technological advances, such as SELDI-mass spectrometry and the data from various ‘-omics’, but the flurry of publications shows that this is still ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’.
The detection in patient bodily fluids of parasite-related biomarkers, that is molecules produced by the parasite at different stages of its life cycle, could help improving diagnostics; the detection of mosquito-related biomarkers could be used to measure exposure in the context of epidemiological studies. By far the most important area of research is the detection of host-related biomarkers, produced by the host in response to the infection or the disease process. The identification of biomarkers that can distinguish between different forms of the disease, e.g. symptomatic versus asymptomatic, or uncomplicated versus severe, has the potential to provide better prognostic indicators and to guide treatment. While this research has identified various acute-phase reactants, markers of endothelial or kidney function, and immune mediators, all of which have provided useful insight into the pathophysiology of malaria, it has not yet produced any useful clinical tool.
This Thematic Series of Malaria Journal, aims to address the various issues related to the identification of malaria biomarkers. It highlights recent research published in the journal, together with invited Opinion papers to stimulate further research.