Grant funds detection of malaria in red blood cells

Researchers at Glasgow University have won a $100,000 (£62,000) award grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a system that can detect and separate red blood cells infected with malaria parasites.

Prof Jon Cooper, professor of bioelectronics and bioengineering at the College of Science and Engineering, plans to use Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) devices to exert selective forces on malaria-infected red blood cells to separate them from uninfected red cells.

Different cells respond to SAWs in different ways, depending on their physical properties. Since malaria parasites cause red cells to alter their elasticity and shape, they should respond differently to SAWs at particular frequencies. The team hopes to produce a handheld device that can identify infected cells quickly and cleanly.

Prof Cooper said: ’Diagnosing malaria can be a difficult and often time-consuming procedure because so few blood cells actually carry the parasite. Sometimes it can take a couple of hours to secure a positive or negative result on a blood sample.

’Moreover, developing a reliable, portable diagnostic tool is not only important for the individual concerned, but is also important in preventing the spread of drug resistance in the parasites.’

The latest award is part of the Grand Challenges Explorations (GSE) programme — a $100m initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, it supports research that has the potential to improve lives in some of the world’s poorest countries.