By Kyle Phong
Published 7:55 EST, September 17th, 2021
What is Malaria?
Malaria is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that affects around 230 million people worldwide. The common symptoms of malaria consist of fever, chills, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Without treatment, the infection can significantly worsen, causing seizures, comas, and death. This illness is particularly detrimental towards rural and underdeveloped countries where there are low funds and a lack of infrastructure to take the proper measures.
Vecteezy, “Malaria Infographic”
Testing for Malaria
Currently, there are rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for malaria, but it comes with several drawbacks. It cannot detect malaria in its early stages, determine its severity, and occasionally give false positive and negative results. In Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, a team led by Dr. Quan wanted to create a test for malaria that was both accurate and inexpensive to produce.
For RDTs, malaria-infected blood is examined under a microscope by an expert. Both factors are uncommon in rural locations, significantly delaying the diagnosis. The image below displays the only available RDT for malaria in the US.
CDC, “BinaxNOW Malaria Test”
The new test kit from Nanyang Technological University does not rely as heavily on laboratory equipment as it only needs water and a blood sample. Requiring a mere ten microliters of blood or less than one drop, the kit mixes this with water which releases the malaria parasites. Malaria parasites digest blood to grow and proliferate, creating hemozoin as a by-product. The kit proceeds to pump blood through an area of chemical patches that light up hemozoin. A light detector called the Raman spectrometer records the frequency and strength of these flashes of light to determine the presence of malaria as well as its severity.
Nanyang Technological University, “Malaria Test Kit”
In order to confirm the accuracy of this new test, the research team added early-stage malaria-infected blood into the kit. They found that the test detected these early-stage parasites, making them more sensitive than RDTs available in the United States. Due to the test’s sensitivity, it can quantify the number of parasites in the blood sample. Physicians can utilize this test to track how well the patient is fighting against malaria.
Dr. Quan and his team hope to cooperate with an industry partner in order to continue conducting more trials and further improve this testing kit. It is estimated that the test would cost about $1 for the US to manufacture, meaning it could be utilized in the field on a large scale. In the future, these test kits will pave way for underserved populations to gain easier access to important public health resources.
Kyle Phong, Youth Medical Journal 2021
Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Malaria”, 30 June 2021
Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Malaria Diagnostic Tests”, 19 February 2020
Nanyang Technological University, “Rapid malaria test kit could aid diagnosis in developing countries”, 29 June 2021
News Medical Life Sciences, “Rapid test kit for malaria delivers results in 30 minutes”, 29 June 2021
ScienceDirect, “Towards malaria field diagnosis based on surface-enhanced Raman scattering with on-chip sample preparation and near-analyte nanoparticle synthesis”, 15 September 2021
Vecteezy, “Malaria Infographic”