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
Elderly should take cholesterol-lowering drugs
Nearly everyone aged 66 to 75 should consider taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke....
Should you really go for that barbecue?
Nutritionists warn that barbecues could be a recipe for disaster because such food contributes to the risk of cancer....
Can robots help stop the Ebola outbreak?
The US military has enlisted a new germ-killing weapon in the fight against Ebola - a four-wheeled robot that can disinfect a room in minutes with pulses of ultraviolet light....
Carbs more harmful than saturated fats - study
Carbohydrates are linked to heightened levels of a fatty acid linked to increased risk for diabetes and heart disease....
UN warns Ebola still far from over
The head of the UN Ebola mission warns that the world is "far, far away" from beating the deadly outbreak....
Obesity blamed for 5% global deaths
Obesity is blamed for around 5 percent of all deaths worldwide, with nearly 30% of world population overweight....
Should Govt lease parts of Lake Victoria to private developers?
Its Ok
No Way
Not Sure
follow us
subscribe to our news letter