Although malaria diagnosis has changed very little over the past several decades, a research team from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) has come up with a new possible alternative. By using magnetic resonance relaxometry (MRR), which is a close cousin of MRI technology, scientists are able to detect a parasitic waste product in the blood of patients infected with malaria.
Not only could this new technique offer a more reliable way to detect malaria, but there’s less potential for human error than with the previous method. Scientists researching the new method claim there’s a lot of potential for this to become the norm, especially since there’s no need for special labels or dye. Since it’s based on a naturally occurring biomarker, biochemical processing of the samples is unnecessary.
With the new SMART system, a parasitic waste called hemozoin can be detected. When the parasites infect the red blood cells, they feed on the hemoglobin carried by the cells. Since hemozoin crystals are produced in all four stages of malaria infection, malaria can be detected in its earliest stage. The new technique is more sensitive, more accurate, and requires a smaller blood sample.
Currently, the researchers are launching a company to make this technology available at an affordable price. They’re running field tests in Southeast Asia and are also exploring powering the device on solar energy, which is an important consideration in poor rural areas.