A cheap and portable device for testing malaria

Malaria as a deadly disease is the world’s biggest killer that is killing over 600,000 people annually mostly children. A breakthrough of sorts has been achieved in detecting the onset of malaria in the early stages through a device that measures electrical properties of red blood cells or RBC’s. The researchers hope that their findings will lead to a portable low cost yet highly sensitive device that can diagnose malaria on the spot with just a drop of blood. Anantha Chandrakasan and his colleagues (team) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) wrote about how they had developed and tested their experimental device in the journal Lab Chip.

This device spreads the drop of blood on an electrode that can count individual cells as they stream past and it can take very accurate reading of their impedance or electrical resistance. During their previous studies, the team has already established that the diseases like malaria alter the electrical properties of red blood cells. Researchers believe that the same technology can be used to diagnose other diseases that change the electrical properties of red blood cells. During their study, the researchers investigated the strain P.falciparum. This parasite enters the blood stream and through its invasion makes the blood cells more magnetic and rigid.

However, these changes can be detected by various diagnostic devices even though the changes does not occur until the parasite reaches a more advanced stage, when the red blood cells starts sticking to small blood vessels, blocking circulation and causing severe symptoms. The new device is sensitive to another property that is measurable in the earliest parasite stage that is ring stage. The property measured by this device is electrical resistance or impedance. This portable device can take very accurate measurements of the size and phase of electrical impedance of individual cells.

Even though, the device was not sensitive enough to reliably differentiate the different stages of the parasitic development, the researchers were still able to combine the measures mathematically so it could reliably differentiate between uninfected and infected cells including those containing the ring stage of the parasite. Researchers believe that their work will quickly lead to a portable and cheap testing kit that can quickly diagnose malaria in areas or places where that have no trained staff and labs. Presently there is no vaccine to prevent malaria but experiments are going on to develop a safe and effective vaccine against P.falciparum malaria. Recently, inovio pharmaceuticals announced that its SynCon DNA vaccine for malaria demonstrated strong and durable anti-body and T-cell immune responses in non-human primates and small animals.

Leave a Reply


Switch to our mobile site