Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have developed a portable hand-held device that can detect malaria within a short span of time and has the potential to aid the global fight against the disease especially in areas with minimal facilities where the disease might be rampant.
The conventional diagnosis involves collecting blood samples, subjecting them to clinical microscopy in a lab by experts with the results being available in a day or two. Such tests require lab equipment and experts, and consume much time. Other detection methods like Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RTDs) give fast but only qualitative results.
The device developed at IISc on the other hand gives both qualitative and quantitative results by automating the process of clinical microscopy, all within a device that can be held in one’s hand. Whats more, it does not require any skilled manpower to conduct the tests. The tests can be conducted by a layman.
Speaking to Deccan Herald, Dr Sai Siva Gorthi, Assistant Professor, Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics, IISc and Principal Investigator of the project, said:
“We are not saying that we have invented a new means of detecting the disease. Clinical microscopy is still the gold standard of diagnosis. However, we have definitely found a faster and accurate way of doing tests so that they are no longer restricted to labs,” he said, adding that malaria can be diagnosed without the need for manual skilled human intervention.
A very small sample of blood - less than a drop - is used in the device that will test each cell in the blood. While a visual of the qualitative test is immediately available, the quantitative parasitaemia levels are processed in about 30 minutes.
Explaining how the device works Dr Gorthi said: “The handheld instrument has a common optical reader...a replaceable microfluidic cartridge, Each time a new test is to be performed, these cartridges are pre-loaded with the required set of reagents to perform automated on-chip processing of the blood sample. Consequently, the affected blood cells display morphological features that are different from normal cells. So, just by looking at the cell images on the LCD display of the device, one can tell whether the cell is infected or not. The algorithms we have developed run on a smart phone-like platform and do this evaluation automatically,” he explained.
With modification to the device, it can be used as a “generic platform” that can give a diagnosis of other diseases that use clinical microscopy as a basis of detection, added Dr Gorthi.
Incubated at the Robert Bosch Centre for Cyber Physical Systems (RBCCPS) at IISc, the device got the ‘Best Innovator’s Pitch’ award recently, given by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) under the Government of India. Dr Sai Siva Gorthi, said that the device might be in the market in three years.
According to World Malaria Report, 2013 of the World Health Organisation, the estimated need for diagnostic tests for suspected cases of malaria is more than one billion every year.