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Breakthrough in malaria testing enables early detection

Using just a drop of blood, researchers can run tests to detect the mosquito-borne disease within minutes. This new technique can be done at a very early stage, before the critical stage of the disease takes shape. 

SINGAPORE: Researchers from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) have developed a new technique to detect malaria within minutes. 

This breakthrough in the field of malaria testing involves a technique that detects the metabolic waste product of malaria parasites. Researchers are able to run tests at a very early stage using just one drop of blood, even when the amount of parasites in the blood is very low. The team says this could potentially save lives, as malaria infection can be detected before the critical stage takes shape. In tests conducted on mice, malaria parasites were detected just a day after infection, said SMART.

Existing detection techniques use blood stained microscopy, and are said to be time-consuming, laborious and often result in false positives. Dr Brian Peng, Research Scientist at SMART, is encouraged by the early detection from the new technique. "Typically you would only be able to see the detection by using microscopy technique by Day 6. And here we are seeing by Day 1 and Day 2, so we are cutting short the time by about four to five days. The implication is that each day the parasitemia is multiplied by 10, and that can potentially kill you.”

The researchers have started clinical trials. Moving forward, it says the technique could also be used to detect other blood disorders including diabetes.