Researchers at St George’s, University of London today announced they’re leading a new project, called Nanomal, to develop a portable device that can detect the malarial parasite and identify its species within 15 minutes. The work is being conducted along with QuantuMDx Group, a diagnostics and DNA sequencing firm, and researchers from the University of Tuebingen in Germany and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
The press release says that the device is “the size and shape of a mobile phone,” and does bear a striking resemblance to the new iPhone 5. It features QuantuMDx’s extraction and PCR technology, a biosensor that etects the binding of the regions of malaria DNA of interest to probes immobilized on the surface of the array of nanowires,” and the company’s own genomic sequencing biosensor. St. George’s is developing a malaria assay that will run on the device and will be able to help identify genetic mutations that relate to a strain’s drug resistance.
From St. George’s:
Nanomal lead Professor Sanjeev Krishna, from St George’s, said: “Recent research suggests there’s a real danger that artemisinins could eventually become obsolete, in the same way as other anti-malarials. New drug treatments take many years to develop, so the quickest and cheapest alternative is to optimise the use of current drugs. The huge advances in technology are now giving us a tremendous opportunity to do that and to avoid people falling seriously ill or dying unnecessarily.”
The handheld device will take a finger prick of blood, extract the malarial DNA and then detect and sequence the specific mutations linked to drug resistance, using a nanowire biosensor. The chip electrically detects the DNA sequences and converts them directly into binary code, the universal language of computers. The binary code can then be readily analysed and even shared, via wireless or mobile networks, with scientists for real-time monitoring of disease patterns.
The device should provide the same quality of result as a referral laboratory, at a fraction of the time and cost. Each device could cost about the price of a smart phone initially, but may be issued for free in developing countries. A single-test cartridge will be around €13 (£10) initially, but the aim is to reduce this cost to ensure affordability in resource-limited settings.
In addition to improving immediate patient outcomes, the project will allow the researchers to build a better picture of levels of drug resistance in stricken areas. It will also give them information on population impacts of anti-malarial interventions.
Device info page from QuantuMDx: Q-POC…