New tool to diagnose malaria

Researchers from Exeter and Coventry University have developed a new technique for diagnosing malaria that might challenge the rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) currently used in the field. Early results suggest that the technique could be as effective as RDTs but is far faster and cheaper, making it a viable alternative.

The team is now working on a non-intrusive version of the device and plans to trial it in Kenya later this year. The research, funded by the European Union, uses magneto-optic technology (MOT) to detect haemozoin, (a waste product of the malarial parasite), in the blood. Haemozoin crystals are weakly magnetic and have a distinct rectangular form. They also exhibit optical dichroism, which means that they absorb light more strongly along their length than across their widths. This new technology takes advantage of these properties to give a precise reading of the presence of haemozoin in a small blood sample. The team created the device to give a positive or negative reading for malaria in less than a minute.

A problem experienced by RDTs is that they need to be kept within a given temperature range, which is difficult in hot climates. These disposable kits costs between $1.50 and $4.50 each and take around 15 minutes to deliver a reading.

Exeter University’s Professor Dave Newman said: ‘There is an urgent need for a new diagnostic technique for malaria, particularly in the light of global warming, which threatens to spread disease into new parts of the world, including southern Europe.’

He added: ‘We expect to ultimately produce a sensitive non-invasive device that will be cost effective and easy to use making it suitable for developing countries, where the need is the greatest.’