Health
New test fast-tracks diagnosis for malaria
Publish Date: Sep 01, 2014
New test fast-tracks diagnosis for malaria
A lab technician prepares blood samples from volunteers for viral-genotyping at a government-run health center in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. (AFP/Getty Images)
  • mail
  • img
newvision


PARIS - A new invention can cheaply and accurately diagnose malaria infection in just a few minutes using only a droplet of blood, researchers reported Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine.

The tool could replace the laborious, error-prone method by which a lab technician looks for malaria parasites in blood through a microscope, they said.

While that method is considered the gold standard in malaria diagnostics today, it depends on the technician's skill in interpreting the image, the quality of the microscope and lab chemicals and even on the thickness of the blood smear on the slide itself.

‘A few minutes’

The touted replacement is an "inexpensive" desk-top mini-lab that, according to its inventors, can detect fewer than 10 malaria parasites per microlitre of blood, using a sample of less than 10 microlitres -- equivalent to a small drop from a finger prick.

The whole procedure just takes a few minutes, the inventors said.

While malaria is both preventable and treatable, it killed an estimated 627,000 people in 2012, mainly children in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

That year there was also an estimated 207 million cases worldwide, and the WHO says current funding levels are "far below" what is needed to eradicate the disease.

The device unveiled in Nature Medicine uses magnetic resonance relaxometry (MRR), a cousin of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the technology that powers today's advanced medical scanners.

It measures the crystals metabolised by the Plasmodium parasite after the creature -- which is transmitted to humans in mosquito bites -- feasts on nutrient-rich haemoglobin in the blood.

These waste-product crystals, which are called hemozoin, contain a minute amount of iron, making them ever-so-slightly magnetic.
 



Desktop kit


The presence of the tiny particles disrupts the synchronous spin, or resonance, in hydrogen atoms that are exposed to a magnetic field.

The more particles there are, the faster this "synchrony" is disrupted.

That means the test can not only tell when someone has been infected, it can also see whether treatment is working, as shown by a fall in the number of parasites in a patient's blood.

The desktop kit uses a magnet about a quarter of the size of powerful, expensive MRI scanners, said scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who undertook the venture with colleagues from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, or SMART.

"There is real potential to make this into a field-deployable system, especially since you don't need any kind of labels or dye," said Jongyoon Han, an MIT professor of electrical and biological engineering.

Low cost

"This system can be built at a very low cost, relative to the million-dollar MRI machines used in a hospital," said Weng Kung Peng, a research scientist at SMART.

"Furthermore, since this technique does not rely on expensive labelling with chemical reagents, we are able to get each diagnostic test done at a cost of less than 10 [US] cents (7.5 cents of a euro)."

Preliminary work has found that an MRR system could be built for less than $2,000 (1,500 euros), the paper said.

The team is running field tests in Southeast Asia and already looking at potential enhancements to the prototype.

It is working on portable version "about the size of a small electronic tablet" and exploring the possibility of using solar energy as a power source, MIT said.

This would be a boon for sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for most of the world's malaria fatalities.

The statements, comments, or opinions expressed through the use of New Vision Online are those of their respective authors, who are solely responsible for them, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff and management of New Vision Online.

New Vision Online reserves the right to moderate, publish or delete a post without warning or consultation with the author.Find out why we moderate comments. For any questions please contact digital@newvision.co.ug

  • mail
  • img
blog comments powered by Disqus
Also In This Section
UN chief launches campaign to end FGM
UN chief Ban Ki-moon launches a global campaign to end the often deadly practice of female genital mutilation within a generation...
China
China is "vulnerable" to the deadly Ebola outbreak due to the soaring number of Chinese working in Africa and poor infection control at home....
Africans in New York complain of Ebola stigma
Africans in New York complain that their children are being bullied at school and businesses are losing money because of hysteria over Ebola....
Ugandans have poor knowledge about stroke
Overall knowledge about stroke in Uganda is poor, although people know what to do in case of a stroke, a survey shows....
Questions raised over too much milk intake
Drink lots of milk to strengthen your bones and boost your health, doctors say. But a new study is raising questions....
Cuban sent to fight Ebola dies of malaria
A Cuban man working in Guinea to help battle the killer Ebola virus has died of malaria, the west African nation has said....
Should the absence of bride price prevent couples from wedding?
Yes
No
Can't Say
follow us
subscribe to our news letter