Disease Diagnostic Group have developed a new handheld device which hopes to transform the diagnosis of malaria. The Rapid Assessment of Malaria (RAM) can diagnose malaria in under a minute and is a simple to use, portable device. Its creators, CEO John Lewandowski and researcher Brian Grimberg, won MIT’s $100,000 Launch competition in 2014 for their work.
RAM works by magnetising a blood sample and then shooting a laser through it. Current diagnosis of malaria involves assessing blood stains under a microscope; a task which relies upon a skilled individual to carry it out. This makes current techniques expensive and many rural areas have no access to this equipment.
Hemozion is a by-product formed through the digestion of blood and left by Malaria parasites as they consume red blood cells. It is a malaria pigment which contains iron and, as iron is magnetic it can be used as a biomarker for the disease. By magnetising the blood sample, the Hemozion pigments are drawn together and the laser can then assess their mass by measuring the percentage of light shot through the sample. This is given as a number, which corresponds to the level of infection and allows the correct treatment of the patient.
The RAM is designed to be a long-lasting device with a lifespan of approximately 100,000 field tests. It requires no medical training to use. Although the upfront cost of the device is not clear, the cost per test is around $0.25; a saving of $100,000 across its lifetime compared to current methods. With plans to distribute the device to people in Africa, India and South America, RAM could provide a solution to malaria diagnosis in rural areas where access to medical facilities is scarce.
The device has been piloted in several countries including Peru, Papua New Guinea and India, with several hundred tests conducted in each location. The results were promising, with a 94% average success rate when compared to current methods.
Image credits: US Army Africa / Flickr
The RAM is an easy to use and portable device which could positively impact malaria diagnosis, allowing rural communities and developing countries access to quick diagnosis. This diagnosis could be given before symptoms appear, which would save lives.
The team behind RAM aim to look beyond malaria diagnosis and use similar techniques to help detect other diseases through magnetic methods.