New device could make malaria detection cheaper, quicker

New device could make malaria detection cheaper, quicker
Detection of common mosquito-borne disease malaria could become cheaper and take just "seconds" with a new portable device, the handiwork of researchers from two Kolkata institutes.

A team of researchers from the Institute of Engineering and Management in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur claim to have developed a mobile, low-cost malaria detection system, which can also diagnose dengue with some modification.

"We have attached a mobile phone camera on a paper microscope which can be used to take image of blood sample on a slide with some chemicals, and the data can be processed at a central server to detect the presence of malaria cell," IIEST, Shibpur Head of Department, IT, Dr Arindam Biswas said.

The paper microscope, also known as 'foldscope' is an optical microscope that can be assembled from simple components, including paper and lens.

The results are relayed back to the remote client, and the doctor registered in system's database can access the data and prescribe treatment accordingly, he said.

All tests performed by the system are automatically logged on the remote central server.

"Every patient will incur a cost of only Rs 10 for each test against a drop of blood taken from the tip of his finger, and the remote testing facility will give results within seconds and provide a hard copy of the report," he said.

Biswas said he had collaborated with the project, undertaken by his PhD student and IEM Professor Nilanjana Dutta Roy and two of her research scholars at the institute - Nilanjan Daw and Debapriya Paul.

To a question about patenting the kit, he said, "The paper microscope has been already there and it was developed by Stanford University. The microscope has been given to the research team by Stanford."

Biswas, however, added that the malaria detection, monitoring and mitigation framework devised by the team has been patented.

The framework includes fitting the image capturing camera, the necessary magnification, the algorithm developed to process the image and find out whether malarial parasites are present, Dutta Roy said.

The system is called 'Centaur' in short.

The detection kit, including the foldable papermade microscope, incurs a manufacturing cost of Rs 80.

"The entire process will not cost much considering the conventional microscope is high priced. And we have registered 90 per cent accuracy in test cases," Biswas, who was part of the project as an academician and not on behalf of IIEST, said.

Asked if the same kit can be used to diagnose dengue, he said, "We have to assess the procedures of dengue test first and the algorithm has to be modified accordingly."

Biswas said they have approached the West Bengal government and if their feedback is positive, they are ready to offer the technology for mass use in rural health centres, where vector-borne diseases typically affect more people.

"There are places like Kakdwip in Sunderbans where we think such devices will be of great help to the people since this system will be effective in both archival of data and mapping real-time spread of the disease in a particular locality," Dutta Roy said.

The developers aim to train social workers in remote villages on using the device if it gets the nod for mass production.

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