Faster, cheaper way of detecting malaria developed here

SINGAPORE - A new method for diagnosing malaria which is faster, cheaper and more accurate has been invented in Singapore.

Developed by the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology along with the Nanyang Technological University, the new tool cuts the time needed to diagnose malaria from 30 minutes to five.

It is also able to detect the mosquito-borne disease as early as the first day after its incubation period, which lasts from seven to 10 days. At this early stage, the patient might not even be showing symptoms of malaria, such as fever, nausea and chills.

Current methods of diagnosis usually occur after the patient displays such signs, during the fourth to sixth day of infection.

The device works by detecting the magnetic changes of the iron in red blood cells that occur when the malaria parasite attacks. The parasite 'eats' the haemoglobin in red blood cells and converts them to iron crystals that the diagnostic tool can pick up.

Each test requires only a drop of blood and costs less than 10 cents.

It also does away with the need for a human technician to search for red blood cells containing parasites, among millions of healthy red blood cells.

The device is small and portable, too - the current prototype is the size of an iPad mini.

And it can detect even the smallest amounts of malaria parasites in the human body, a feat similar to spotting three people in the entire world.

Mice studies have shown a 90 per cent success rate in diagnosis. The team is currently working on human studies at clinical settings.