Digital PCR: a new technology for diagnosis of parasitic infections

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Parasitic infections are responsible for a significant burden of disease worldwide as a result of international travel and immigration. More accurate diagnostic tools are necessary in support to parasite control and elimination programmes in endemic regions as well as for rapid case detection in non-endemic areas. Digital PCR (dPCR) is a powerful technology with recent applications in parasitology. Aims: This review provides for the first time an overview of dPCR as a novel technology applied to detection of parasitic infections, and highlights the most relevant potential benefits of this assay. Sources: Peer-reviewed literature pertinent to this review based on PubMed, Cochrane and Embase databases as well as laboratory experience of authors. Content: Among the 86 studies retrieved, 17 used the dPCR applied to parasites belonging to protozoa (8), helminths (8) and arthropods (1) of clinical human interest. dPCR was adopted in four studies, respectively, for Plasmodium and Schistosoma japonicum. dPCR led to clear advantages over quantitative real-time PCR in P. falciparum and spp., and in S. japonicum showing higher sensitivity; and in Cryptosporidium with higher stability to inhibitors from stool. For all parasites, dPCR allows absolute quantitation without the need of a standard curve. Various dPCR platforms were used. A few critical factors need consideration: DNA load, choice of platform and reaction optimization. Implications: Owing to its sensitivity and quantitative characteristics, dPCR is a potential candidate to become an appealing new method among the molecular technologies for parasite detection and quantitative analysis in the future. In general, it has more applications than genomic DNA detection only, such as quantitation in mixed infections, gene expression and mutation analysis. dPCR should be considered in malaria screening and diagnosis as a complement to routine assays and in schistosomiasis elimination programmes. Standardized strategies and further studies are needed for the integration of dPCR in routine clinical laboratory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1510-1516
JournalClinical Microbiology and Infection
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Absolute quantitation
  • Diagnosis
  • Digital PCR
  • Parasitology
  • Real-time PCR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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