Research from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland has discovered a new way to detect malaria parasites in patients. A new hand-held malaria detector is capable of recognizing the presence of the disease by using magnets to create a small electromagnetic field in which a patient’s blood sample is analyzed. Since malaria parasites feed on hemoglobin in red blood cells but have no biological method to process the iron from the hemoglobin, the parasites fill with iron by-products which are susceptible to magnetic fields. A blood sample that proves to be affected by magnetic fields is considered to be a positive test for malaria.
This new malaria detector has the potential to replace rapid test kits that are currently being used to test for the disease. While each malaria detector costs $250 to produce, its cost per test is roughly 50 cents–half of the cost of one rapid test kit. The malaria detector is also more durable, since rapid test kits are also known to expire in hot climates, where most cases of malaria occur.
The fact that malaria parasites are affected by magnetic fields not only makes diagnosis cheaper, but it also allows for the use of more effective treatments. Because malaria has grown resistant to a number of drugs manufactured to treat it, researchers have sought new ways of fighting the disease. A new method, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, suggests combating the disease through the use of microwaves. The microwaves would heat the iron by-product in the malaria parasites until the organisms burst. Researchers believe that the power of the microwaves would not be strong enough to adversely affect the patient, but would eliminate the disease completely.
According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “malaria is present in more than 100 countries across the world and affects more than 200 million people.” Fortunately, many areas of the world have seen more than a 50% decrease in malaria rates in the past decade. It is the hope of researchers that technologies that depend on the presence of iron by-products in malaria will help cut the incidence of malaria even more.
– Jordan Kline