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.

Mosquito gut becomes a potential ground for fighting malaria

A recent study carried on by U.S. researchers suggests that genetically modified bacteria could fight malaria from inside the mosquitoes. The symbiotic bacteria that reside in the gut of the mosquito known as Pantoea agglomerans can be genetically modified to secrete “anti malaria effector molecules” that are toxic to the malarial parasite. The researchers already knew that the most vulnerable stage of development of Plasmodium – the mosquito parasite that causes malaria, occurs in the lumen of the mid gut in the mosquito and these parasites live along with these symbiotic bacteria. Modification of these symbiotic bacteria does not result in any harm to humans or mosquitoes.

The study was carried on by the senior author Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, a professor with John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore – Maryland. Previously, Marcelo Jacobs- Lorena produced mosquitoes that generated their own antimalarial peptides also known as Malaria-Resistant Mosquitoes in a work that appeared in Nature.

However, this approach has been found difficult to be implemented in field even though it seemed promising in the lab. Now Jacobs and his team had taken a different approach. Instead of manipulating mosquitoes directly, they have focused on the bacteria that live symbiotically in the mosquito gut and modified them to produce compounds that interfere with the parasites development. The next step involves testing this approach in a real world environment. Researchers are still finding ways to figure out how they may introduce genetically engineered bacteria in the field.


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