Innovation That Matters

The device could also be used to test for other diseases, including dengue and Zika | Photo source The University of Queensland

Detecting malaria through a smartphone

Health & Wellbeing

A non-invasive method for detecting malaria uses infrared light and takes just a few seconds

Spotted: The World Health Organization has set a goal of reducing total global malaria incidences and mortality by at least 90 per cent, and eliminating malaria completely in at least 35 countries, by 2030. A vital component of this strategy is universal testing of all suspected cases of malaria. However, in many regions where malaria is endemic, there is poor access to testing facilities, especially in remote areas. Now, a research team at Australia’s University of Queensland (UQ) has come up with a novel test for malaria that uses infrared light.

The research team, led by Dr Maggy Lord from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, has devised a testing method that uses a device that shines a beam of harmless infrared light onto a person’s ear or finger for five to ten seconds. The infrared signature is then processed by a computer algorithm to reveal the presence of malaria. The device can be operated by a smartphone – making it portable and cheap to use.

One major difficulty in testing for malaria is that as many as 60 per cent of infected individuals can be asymptomatic. These people act as a reservoir for transmission by mosquitos, making it difficult to eliminate the disease, especially in areas where it is challenging to test large groups of people. The new device could change this, by making it possible to quickly test large numbers of people at virtually no cost.

Dr Lord points out that, “The technique is chemical-free, needle-free and detects malaria through the skin using infrared-light – it’s literally just a flash on a person’s skin and it’s done. The device is smartphone operated, so results are acquired in real time.”

The fight against Covid has spurred global researchers to develop new approaches to disease detection and containment. Recent innovations Springwise has spotted include a handheld testing kit to allow pooled testing even in areas far removed from medical labs, and a toilet seat that can detect kidney disease, diabetes, and UTIs.

Written By: Lisa Magloff




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