Malaria rapid test kit gives results in 30 minutes

A team of scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has developed a test kit for malaria that gives results in 30 minutes. The kit could facilitate the diagnosis of malaria in the field, as the necessary equipment should be light, easy to use and able to detect the disease in its early stages.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 229 million people suffered from malaria in 2019. The disease, transmitted by mosquitoes, has killed 409,000 people in 87 mainly developing countries.

Efforts to treat and control malaria in developing countries and rural areas are hampered by high cost and lack of infrastructure. Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for malaria are unable to detect infections during the early stages of the disease, but can give false positive or negative results. They also do not determine the severity of the infection.

Compared to current solutions, the test kit developed by NTU is able to detect malaria infections even when the number of parasites in the blood is low, especially during the early stages of the disease. It is also able to quantify the number of parasites in each test, which allows doctors to track their patients’ progress in fighting the disease. “

Liu Quan, Study Director and Associate Professor, School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

“We hope this could help control and eliminate malaria. The goal of our test was to reduce reliance on laboratory equipment for malaria detection, which is an important step towards diagnosing malaria in the field. We had a simple goal in mind: to find a tool that can be produced at low cost and that was precise enough to perform rapid screening. “

Evaluating the test, Professor Laurent Renia, Director of the Respiratory and Infectious Diseases Program at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at NTU who was not part of the study, said: “The NTU test kit would help fill the void in malaria detection for an accurate, sensitive, fast and inexpensive tool. Like the team’s test kit would be easily deployable, usable without extensive training, and would not depend on the use of microscopes, this could be useful for malaria specialists who conduct research remotely or for clinicians without access to laboratory equipment. “

The study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Sensors and actuators B: Chemical in May. The NTU team has applied for a patent for its technology, in addition to an earlier patent it obtained in 2017.

Digested blood – the key to the effectiveness of the test

Microscopic examination of blood infected with malaria parasites remains the current global benchmark for confirming infection. However, this requires microscopes and a level of expertise to conduct the process, which are often not available in many health facilities in several malaria-endemic countries and rural areas.

The test kit made from NTU could reduce researchers’ reliance on complex laboratory equipment, as it would only require a blood sample and water to function (see Image 1). The kit works by detecting hemozoin, a byproduct formed from the digestion of blood by malaria parasites, which is a unique indicator of the disease.

First, ten microliters of a patient’s blood, or less than a drop of water, is mixed with water to force the red blood cells to release the contained parasites.

A pump inside the test kit then sucks up the blood mixture to contact it with several chemical patches, which cause the hemazoin to ignite. The flashes of light are then picked up by a detector, called a Raman spectrometer, which determines whether an infection is present or not, as well as its severity.

To validate the accuracy of the test kit, the researchers loaded human blood infected with malaria parasites into the chip. The test could detect parasites at an early stage at a level of 125 parasites per microliter of blood, which is a higher sensitivity than currently available rapid diagnostic tests.

Researchers estimate that each test would cost around US $ 1 per chip to manufacture and at that price would facilitate low-cost, large-scale point-of-care field testing.

The team hopes to find an industrial partner to work with and conduct further trials on their malaria test kit to improve its sensitivity and functionality.


Journal reference:

Yuen, C., et al. (2021) Towards a field diagnosis of malaria based on improved surface Raman scattering with on-chip sample preparation and synthesis of nanoparticles close to the analyte. Sensors and actuators B: Chemical.

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