Faster, cheaper way to know if you have malaria

April 28th, 2008 - 11:36 am ICT by admin  

London, April 28 (IANS) Researchers have developed a new technique for diagnosing malaria that is faster and cheaper than the existing diagnostic tests. The research team is now working on a non-invasive version of the device, which, with the assistance of the Royal Tropical Institute, it is planning to use in trials in Kenya later this year.

Two years in the making and funded by the European Union, this technique 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 width.

When aligned by a magnetic field they behave like a weak Polaroid sheet such as used in sunglasses. 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 has created a device, which gives a positive or negative reading for malaria in less than a minute.

The new device has a totally different approach from the existing diagnostic tests known as RDTs, which use a chemical agent to detect antigens associated with the malarial parasite.

One of the problems with RDTs is that they need to be kept within a given temperature range, which is difficult in hot countries.

Over the last decade RDTs have been developed, which allow for faster diagnosis, but these are too costly to be viable for developing countries. Furthermore, RDTs are often not stable at relatively high temperatures and sometimes give positive readings even after successful treatment.

Dave Newman of the University of Exeter said: “The early results from our device are very promising and hugely exciting. 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 greatest.”

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