McGill researchers report breakthrough in rapid malaria detection

December 20, 2007

A research team led by Dr. Paul Wiseman of the Departments of Physics and Chemistry at McGill University has developed a radically new technique that uses lasers and non-linear optical effects to detect malaria infection in human blood, according to a study published in the Biophysical Journal. The researchers say the new technique holds the promise of simpler, faster and far less labour-intensive detection of the malaria parasite in blood samples.

Malaria is a vector-borne infectious disease spread by parasites of the genus Plasmodium. Most common in tropical and subtropical regions, it is a global scourge with 350 to 500 million new cases - and one to three million fatalities - reported annually. Most of the fatalities are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where the resources and trained personnel currently required to accurately diagnose the disease are spread the thinnest.

Current detection techniques require trained technicians to stain slides, look for the parasite's DNA signature under the microscope, and then manually count all the visible infected cells, a labourious process dependent on the skill and availability of trained analysts. By contrast, the proposed new technique relies on a known optical effect called third harmonic generation (THG), which causes hemozoin - a crystalline substance secreted by the parasite - to glow blue when irradiated by an infrared laser.

"People who are familiar with music know about acoustic harmonics," said Dr. Wiseman. "You have a fundamental sound frequency and then multiples of that frequency. Non-linear optical effects are similar: if you shine an intense laser beam of a specific frequency on certain types of materials, you generate multiples of the frequency. Hemozoin has a huge, non-linear optical response for the third harmonic, which causes the blue glow."

Dr. Wiseman and his colleagues now hope to adapt well-established existing technologies like fibre-optic communications lasers and fluorescent cell sorters to quickly move the technique out of the laboratory and into the field.

"We're imagining a self-contained unit that could be used in clinics in endemic countries," said Dr. Wiseman. "The operator could inject the cell sample directly into the device, and then it would come up with a count of the total number of existing infected cells without manual intervention."
On the web:

McGill University

Related Malaria Articles from Brightsurf:

Clocking in with malaria parasites
Discovery of a malaria parasite's internal clock could lead to new treatment strategies.

Breakthrough in malaria research
An international scientific consortium led by the cell biologists Volker Heussler from the University of Bern and Oliver Billker from the UmeƄ University in Sweden has for the first time systematically investigated the genome of the malaria parasite Plasmodium throughout its life cycle in a large-scale experiment.

Scientists close in on malaria vaccine
Scientists have taken another big step forward towards developing a vaccine that's effective against the most severe forms of malaria.

New tool in fight against malaria
Modifying a class of molecules originally developed to treat the skin disease psoriasis could lead to a new malaria drug that is effective against malaria parasites resistant to currently available drugs.

Malaria expert warns of need for malaria drug to treat severe cases in US
The US each year sees more than 1,500 cases of malaria, and currently there is limited access to an intravenously administered (IV) drug needed for the more serious cases.

Monkey malaria breakthrough offers cure for relapsing malaria
A breakthrough in monkey malaria research by two University of Otago scientists could help scientists diagnose and treat a relapsing form of human malaria.

Getting to zero malaria cases in zanzibar
New research led by the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Ifakara Health Institute and the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Program suggests that a better understanding of human behavior at night -- when malaria mosquitoes are biting -- could be key to preventing lingering cases.

Widely used malaria treatment to prevent malaria in pregnant women
A global team of researchers, led by a research team at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), are calling for a review of drug-based strategies used to prevent malaria infections in pregnant women, in areas where there is widespread resistance to existing antimalarial medicines.

Protection against Malaria: A matter of balance
A balanced production of pro and anti-inflammatory cytokines at two years of age protects against clinical malaria in early childhood, according to a study led by ISGlobal, an institution supported by ''la Caixa'' Foundation.

The math of malaria
A new mathematical model for malaria shows how competition between parasite strains within a human host reduces the odds of drug resistance developing in a high-transmission setting.

Read More: Malaria News and Malaria Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to