A laser-powered RDT for malaria?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Researchers at Rice University in Houston (my hometown!) have developed a laser-powered device that can detect malaria without drawing blood. Supposedly the device is easy to power and "rugged" enough for "dusty villages":
The results were described in a study published online last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In theory, said the inventor, Dmitri O. Lapotko, a physicist who studied laser weapons in his native Belarus, the technology can be used in a device powered by a car battery and is rugged enough to work in dusty villages. With a fiber-optic probe attached to a finger or ear lobe, the device could screen one person every 20 seconds for less than 50 cents each. If that happened, it could revolutionize malaria diagnosis. Current rapid tests require a finger prick, take 15 minutes and cost about $1. They can also spoil in hot climates. Malaria parasites feeding inside blood cells contain minute amounts of hemozoin, iron crystals left over from the digestion of hemoglobin . A laser burst of a fraction of a second heats the crystals until they create a bubble, which pops.
This is very interesting news, particularly in light of the rapid HIV tests that came out last year. These kinds of sturdy, portable RDTs are desperately needed in resource-poor areas.

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