News / Science & Technology

Laser Scanner Detects Malaria Infections in Seconds

A possible rapid, non-invasive test for malaria infection detects tiny vapor nanobubbles produced by the malaria parasite when it is zapped by a short laser pulse. (Rice University)
A possible rapid, non-invasive test for malaria infection detects tiny vapor nanobubbles produced by the malaria parasite when it is zapped by a short laser pulse. (Rice University)
Jessica Berman
Researchers have developed the first non-invasive method of detecting malaria infection using a laser beam scanner. The painless test appears to be 100 percent accurate and does not require using any blood.

Currently, the gold standard of malaria testing is examining a blood smear under the microscope for evidence of the deadly parasite. A diagnosis requires trained technicians, expensive equipment and time, things that are not always available in poorer and more remote parts of the world.

But so-called “vapor nanobubble” technology would eliminate the need to draw any blood. It only requires an individual to place a finger on a laser device, according to Dmitri Lopotko, a researcher with the department of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

“We shine a very short light pulse through the skin.  And this light pulse is absorbed only by malaria parasites because of the wavelength we use. And in response to this short light pulse, the parasite literally explodes,” he said.

Malaria mortality rates, by age groups, 2000-2012Malaria mortality rates, by age groups, 2000-2012
x
Malaria mortality rates, by age groups, 2000-2012
Malaria mortality rates, by age groups, 2000-2012
The light pulse - from a low-powered laser - is trained on an extremely tiny particle called hemozoin that is produced by the malaria parasite once it has infected red blood cells. Lopotko said hemozoin crystals are not found in normal red cells.

As they are heated by the laser, the crystals create a tiny vapor of miniscule bubbles inside infected cells.

When the bubbles burst, Lopotko said they have a unique acoustic signature, which scientists can hear and count.

“You can detect just a few infected cells in a million normal cells,” he said.

Lopotko said there were no false positive results in experiments with the device, making the nanobubble technology extremely accurate even in the earliest stages of a malaria infection when treatment is extremely important.   

A possible rapid, non-invasive test for malaria infection detects tiny vapor nanobubbles produced by the malaria parasite when it is zapped by a short laser pulse. (Rice University)A possible rapid, non-invasive test for malaria infection detects tiny vapor nanobubbles produced by the malaria parasite when it is zapped by a short laser pulse. (Rice University)
x
A possible rapid, non-invasive test for malaria infection detects tiny vapor nanobubbles produced by the malaria parasite when it is zapped by a short laser pulse. (Rice University)
A possible rapid, non-invasive test for malaria infection detects tiny vapor nanobubbles produced by the malaria parasite when it is zapped by a short laser pulse. (Rice University)
The portable battery-powered device won’t  be cheap, however, costing around $10,000-$20,000 each to manufacture.

“But each device will be capable to screen more than 200,000 people per year. So the cost of analysis for each patient will be less than 50 cents,” he said.

And it can be used by non-medical personnel to diagnose suspected cases of malaria.

Lopotko said the light beam used by this rapid, non-invasive technology is less powerful than the familiar laser pointer and has been shown to be safe in volunteers. The next step is clinical trials at a hospital in Houston that cares for patients infected with malaria, followed shortly thereafter by global clinical trials in 2014.  

An article describing the transdermal malaria detection device is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

You May Like

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Olanrewaju Babatunde from: Lagos, Nigeria
January 07, 2014 1:27 AM
Fantastic but not affordable by those that will need it.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid