Volatile biomarkers of symptomatic and asymptomatic malaria infection in humans

Consuelo M. De Moraes, Caroline Wanjiku, Nina M. Stanczyk, Hannier Pulido, James W. Sims, Heike S. Betz, Andrew F. Read, Baldwyn Torto, Mark C. Mescher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Malaria remains among the world’s deadliest diseases, and control efforts depend critically on the availability of effective diagnostic tools, particularly for the identification of asymptomatic infections, which play a key role in disease persistence and may account for most instances of transmission but often evade detection by current screening methods. Research on humans and in animal models has shown that infection by malaria parasites elicits changes in host odors that influence vector attraction, suggesting that such changes might yield robust biomarkers of infection status. Here we present findings based on extensive collections of skin volatiles from human populations with high rates of malaria infection in Kenya. We report broad and consistent effects of malaria infection on human volatile profiles, as well as significant divergence in the effects of symptomatic and asymptomatic infections. Furthermore, predictive models based on machine learning algorithms reliably determined infection status based on volatile biomarkers. Critically, our models identified asymptomatic infections with 100% sensitivity, even in the case of low-level infections not detectable by microscopy, far exceeding the performance of currently available rapid diagnostic tests in this regard. We also identified a set of individual compounds that emerged as consistently important predictors of infection status. These findings suggest that volatile biomarkers may have significant potential for the development of a robust, noninvasive screening method for detecting malaria infections under field conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5780-5785
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - May 29 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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