Researchers make breakthrough in malaria detection

December 20th, 2007 - 8:05 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 20 (ANI): Researchers at the McGill University have made a breakthrough in the fight against malaria, by developing a new technique that uses lasers and non-linear optical effects to detect malaria infection in human blood.

The research team, led by Dr. Paul Wiseman of the Departments of Physics and Chemistry at the University, says that the new technique could lead to simpler, faster and far less labour-intensive detection of the malaria parasite in blood samples.

Current techniques to detect the disease require trained technicians to stain slides, look for the parasites DNA signature under the microscope, and then manually count all the visible infected cells, a laborious process dependent on the skill and availability of trained analysts.

But the proposed new technique relies on a known optical effect called third harmonic generation (THG), which causes hemozoin a crystalline substance secreted by the parasite to glow blue when irradiated by an infrared laser.

People who are familiar with music know about acoustic harmonics. You have a fundamental sound frequency and then multiples of that frequency, said Dr. Wiseman.

Non-linear optical effects are similar: if you shine an intense laser beam of a specific frequency on certain types of materials, you generate multiples of the frequency. Hemozoin has a huge, non-linear optical response for the third harmonic, which causes the blue glow, he added.

Dr. Wiseman and his colleagues now look forward to adapt well-established existing technologies like fibre-optic communications lasers and fluorescent cell sorters to quickly move the technique out of the laboratory and into the field.

“Were imagining a self-contained unit that could be used in clinics in endemic countries,” he said.

“The operator could inject the cell sample directly into the device, and then it would come up with a count of the total number of existing infected cells without manual intervention, he added.

Malaria is a vector-borne infectious disease spread by parasites of the genus Plasmodium. Most common in tropical and subtropical regions, it is a global plague with 350 to 500 million new cases, and one to three million fatalities, reported annually.

The study is published in the Biophysical Journal. (ANI)

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