Researchers from the Universities of Exeter and Coventry, have developed a new test that will make diagnosing malaria a matter of minutes.
The results have indicated that this technique could be as effective as RDTs but far faster and cheaper, making it a potentially viable alternative.
Currently the team is working on a non-invasive version of the device, which will soon go under trail in Kenya later this year.
The technique took two years in the making, and uses magneto-optic technology (MOT) to detect haemozoin, a waste product of the malarial parasite, in the blood.
Haemozoin crystals are weakly magnetic and have a distinct rectangular form. They also exhibit optical dichroism, which means that they absorb light more strongly along their length than across their width. When aligned by a magnetic field they behave like a weak Polaroid sheet such as used in sunglasses.
The new method makes use of all these properties to come out with a precise reading of the presence of haemozoin in a small blood sample. In fact, the team has also created a device, which gives a positive or negative reading for malaria in less than a minute.
The new device has a totally different approach from RDTs and high-power microscopy for malaria diagnosis.
While high-power microscopy is time-consuming and requires expensive equipment and specialist medical skills, RDTs allow for faster diagnosis in the field, but these are too costly to be viable for developing countries.
"There is an urgent need for a new diagnostic technique for malaria, particularly in the light of global warming, which threatens to spread the disease into new parts of the world, including southern Europe. The early results from our device are very promising and hugely exciting. We expect to ultimately produce a sensitive non-invasive device that will be cost effective and easy to use, making it suitable for developing countries, where the need is greatest," said Professor Dave Newman of the University of Exeter's School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics.
The results of the study are published in the Biophysical Journal.