A biomarker approach to syndrome-based treatment of severe childhood illness in malaria-endemic areas.
Ackerman H., Casals-Pascual C.
This opinion article deals with the diagnostic clinical challenges faced by clinicians or health care workers in malaria-endemic areas when a severely sick child presents to the clinic with fever, coma or respiratory distress. Indeed, the coexistence of malaria with other severe infections like meningitis, invasive bacterial infection or pneumonia makes appropriate treatment allocation a matter of life and death. The use of biomarkers has been proposed as a potential solution to this problem. The arrival of high-throughput technologies allowed thousands of molecules (transcripts, proteins and metabolites) to be been screened in clinical samples from large cohorts of well/characterised patients. The major aim of these studies was to identify biomarkers that inform important decisions: should this child be referred to hospital? Should antibiotics, anti-malarials, or both, be administered? There is a large discrepancy between the number of biomarker discovery studies published and the number of biomarkers that have been clinically validated, let alone implemented. This article reflects on the many opportunities and obstacles encountered in biomarker research in malaria-endemic areas.