Malaria continues to be a persistent problem in large parts of the world and a great deal of effort has been spent fighting the disease. Yet, diagnosing malaria still requires a blood draw, reagents, and a trained medical professional to perform the test. Moreover, these tests are both labor and time intensive, making them difficult to offer in resource-poor environments. Now a team from Rice University has developed a completely new test that doesn’t require a blood sample nor a reagent to test whether it’s infected by the parasite. Additionally, once developed into a product, the device shouldn’t require a medical professional to do the testing.
The system relies on a laser that creates “vapor nanobubbles” within infected cells. These bubbles eventually pop and create a signature sound that is acoustically detected by the device. In pre-clinical testing, the team showed that the device was able to spot single malaria infected cell among a million healthy ones without any false positives whatsoever.
From the study abstract in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Here we show that the high optical absorbance and nanosize of endogenous heme nanoparticles called “hemozoin,” a unique component of all blood-stage malaria parasites, generates a transient vapor nanobubble around hemozoin in response to a short and safe near-infrared picosecond laser pulse. The acoustic signals of these malaria-specific nanobubbles provided transdermal noninvasive and rapid detection of a malaria infection as low as 0.00034% in animals without using any reagents or drawing blood. These on-demand transient events have no analogs among current malaria markers and probes, can detect and screen malaria in seconds, and can be realized as a compact, easy-to-use, inexpensive, and safe field technology.
Study abstract in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Hemozoin-generated vapor nanobubbles for transdermal reagent- and needle-free detection of malaria…