A noninvasive technology can accurately detect even low levels of malaria infection through the skin in seconds with a laser scanner that requires no dyes, diagnostic chemicals, or needles.
As reported in a preclinical study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the technology detected a single malaria-infected cell among a million normal cells with zero false-positive readings.
The technology uses a low-powered laser that creates tiny vapor “nanobubbles” inside malaria-infected cells. The bursting bubbles have a unique acoustic signature that allows for an extremely sensitive diagnosis.
“Ours is the first through-the-skin method that’s been shown to rapidly and accurately detect malaria in seconds without the use of blood sampling or reagents,” says lead investigator Dmitri Lapotko, a faculty fellow in biochemistry and cell biology and in physics and astronomy at Rice University who invented the vapor nanobubble technology.
The diagnosis and screening will be supported by a low-cost, battery-powered portable device that can be operated by nonmedical personnel. One device should be able to screen up to 200,000 people per year, with the cost of diagnosis estimated to be less than 50 cents, he says.
Malaria, one of the world’s deadliest diseases, sickens more than 300 million people and kills more than 600,000 each year, most of them young children. Despite widespread global efforts, malaria parasites have become more resistant to drugs, and efficient epidemiological screening and early diagnosis are largely unavailable in the countries most affected by the disease.