Innovative Tools Devices Made for Athletes Can Now Save Lives Against Malaria
Researchers have revealed that handheld lactic acid testing devices which are designed especially for athletes could be used to save the lives of children severely affected from malaria in Africa.
Edmonton/Canada – University of Alberta researchers are repurposing handheld lactic acid testing devices that were originally developed for endurance athletes in North America as a tool to save the lives of critically ill children in sub-Saharan Africa.
The team used the portable blood test on Ugandan children arriving at hospital with symptoms of malaria and respiratory distress and found that those with high levels of lactic acid or lactate were three times more likely to die from their illness than those with lower levels. In recently published research, the team suggests the device could be widely used as a simple triage tool to identify the sickest children in need of the most urgent care.
“This is a simple finger poke much like those used for diabetes,” says researcher Catherine Mitran, who has a PhD in public health at the U of A and is now a third-year medicine student. “It’s marketed for high-level, non-medical-expert athletes to use during their training, but we found it also has predictive usefulness. When children came in with that high level of lactate, they were at a significantly higher risk of death.”
A child dies of malaria every two minutes, according to the World Health Organization, which reports 247 million cases of malaria in 2021 and 619,000 deaths, most of them children. Caused by a parasite spread by mosquitoes, malaria symptoms include high fever, chills and flu-like illness. Adults in high transmission areas often develop immunity, which is why children are most vulnerable. Those who survive may experience cognitive delays, liver and kidney damage.
Lactic acid levels are low in healthy people at rest, but rise during strenuous exercise, heart failure, or infection when oxygen levels decrease. The parasites that cause malaria also produce lactic acid, so patients with a high parasitic load will have more lactic acid in their blood. Mitran says the next step for the research will be to follow children identified to be at high risk due to their high lactic acid levels to learn whether their outcomes can be improved.