BACKGROUND: Accurate and timely diagnosis of malaria is essential for disease management and surveillance. Thin and thick blood smear microscopy and malaria rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) are standard malaria diagnostics, but both methods have limitations. The novel automated hematology analyzer XN-30 provides standard complete blood counts (CBC) as well as quantification of malaria parasitemia at the price of a CBC. This study assessed the accuracy of XN-30 for malaria detection in a controlled human malaria infection (CHMI) study and a phase 3 diagnostic accuracy study in Burkina Faso.
METHODS: Sixteen healthy, malaria-naive CHMI participants were challenged with five Plasmodium falciparum-infected mosquitoes. Blood was sampled daily for XN-30, blood smear microscopy, and malaria qPCR. The accuracy study included patients aged > 3 months presenting with acute febrile illness. XN-30, microscopy, and rapid diagnostic tests (HRP-2/pLDH) were performed on site; qPCR was done in retrospect. The malaria reference standard was microscopy, and results were corrected for sub-microscopic cases.
RESULTS: All CHMI participants became parasitemic by qPCR and XN-30 with a strong correlation for parasite density (R2 = 0.91; p < .0001). The XN-30 accurately monitored treatment and allowed detection of recrudescence. Out of 908 patients in the accuracy study, 241 had microscopic malaria (density 24-491,802 parasites/μL). The sensitivity and specificity of XN-30 compared to microscopy were 98.7% and 99.4% (PPV = 98.7%, NPV = 99.4%). Results were corrected for qPCR-confirmed sub-microscopic cases. Three microscopy-confirmed cases were not detected by XN-30. However, XN-30 detected 19/134 (14.2%) qPCR-confirmed cases missed by microscopy. Among qPCR-confirmed cases, XN-30 had a higher sensitivity (70.9% versus 66.4%; p = .0009) and similar specificity (99.6% versus 100%; p = .5) as microscopy. The accuracy of XN-30 for microscopic malaria was equal to or higher than HRP-2 and pLDH RDTs, respectively.
CONCLUSIONS: The XN-30 is a novel, automated hematology analyzer that combines standard hemocytometry with rapid, objective, and robust malaria detection and quantification, ensuring prompt treatment of malaria and malaria anemia and follow-up of treatment response.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: Both trials were registered on clinicaltrials.gov with respective identifiers NCT02836002 (CHMI trial) and NCT02669823 (diagnostic accuracy study).