Strip of paper-like object helped diagnose malaria in Uganda

Strip of paper-like object helped diagnose malaria in Uganda

A cheap, origami-like strip of paper accurately detected malaria
in 98 percent of cases in a test group of schoolchildren in Uganda. Though
paper sensors are nothing new — the most famous examples include
some home pregnancy tests — the results from this trial show that such sensors
can be promising for helping diagnose disease in rural areas.

Malaria is one of the most dangerous infectious diseases in the
world, and after decades of progress, the number of cases is rising again,
according to the World Health Organization’s 2018 World Malaria Report. (There were 219 million cases
worldwide in 2017, compared to 217 million a year earlier.) Diagnosis,
especially in remote areas, is one of the challenges of fighting malaria.
Symptoms of malaria can resemble other diseases, and without a proper
diagnosis, patients could be subject to expensive and unnecessary treatments.

There are 15-minute rapid diagnostic tests that use a prick of
blood, but these are inaccurate. Meanwhile, more accurate methods require labs
and trained technicians. For a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
bioengineer Jonathan Cooper at the University of Glasgow
created a sensor that doesn’t need fancy equipment and still beat out other
methods.

The first step is to put a prick of blood on a special piece of
paper that is covered in wax (to control how the blood flows) and specific
chemicals (to prepare the blood for testing). Folding the paper in a specific
way manipulates the blood so that it’s ready for the next step. The sample is
put next to tiny testing strips that can detect the presence of the malaria
parasite. Then, the entire thing is sealed with a film and placed on a hot
plate for 45 minutes. As the package containing an infected sample heats up,
the malaria parasite’s DNA is copied repeatedly, making it easier to detect. If
it’s there, the strips will show two red bands. If not, they will only show
one.

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Cooper tested the device on 67 kids, ages six to 14, in the St.
Kizito and Mayuge districts of Uganda. (Neither the researcher nor the kids
knew beforehand who had malaria.) The origami strip detected malaria correctly
in 98 percent of the students that had it. That’s better than other techniques
performed by local health care teams, which detected malaria in only about 86
percent of cases. Now, professionals from the Uganda Ministry of Health are considering
using the device in rural area

Source: www.theverge.com

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