New Magnets Can Detect Malaria
Scientists Develop Tests to Fight Deadly Parasites
by Melody Krishnan, age 16
Malaria is a killer. It is a deadly disease carried by
mosquitoes, and it is most prevalent in developing countries with
subtropical or tropical climates.
Malaria affects many
parts of the human body and is often fatal. In 2010, it caused 1.2
million deaths across the world.
Mosquitoes inject the malarial parasites into their human victims.
Malarial parasites eat the hemoglobin in the human body.
Hemoglobin is the iron-containing oxygen carrier found in red blood
cells, but the parasites are not capable of eliminating the iron.
Therefore, malarial parasites have a storage tank that is occupied by
iron-rich crystallized waste.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University recently developed a new test to better detect
malaria parasites in human blood. This malaria detector takes advantage
of the fact that the parasites cannot get rid of the iron they extract
from human blood. This iron can be magnetized.
Western scientists developed a hand-held, battery-powered device to
replace current diagnostic tests for malaria.
battery-powered box magnetizes the iron-containing molecules in the
parasites. First, it combines a potential host’s drop of blood with
water, places a magnetic field around this mixture, and shines a laser
through it. If the blood contains parasites, the water breaks them apart
releasing the iron compounds in crystalline form. Finally, the crystals
partially obstruct the laser by lining up in the magnetic field.
In rural clinics, malaria is detected using rapid test kits,
which do not require trained microscopists. These chemical-based kits
arrived on the market in the past decade and have since sped up malaria
Tests on blood samples from Papua New Guinea
conducted by Brian T. Grimberg, a Case Western University biologist,
found the magnet-laser box to be nearly twice as accurate as a
microscope technician at finding parasites and more than three times as
accurate as a rapid test kit. Grimberg adds that rapid test kits often
expire in hot climates.
The Case Western device costs
$250. In addition, the team states its test can pay for itself and can
beat the price of the rapid test kits by at least 50 cents per use.
The group of Case Western University researchers found that
the magnet-laser box is a more economical, faster, and more effective
way of diagnosing malaria. If they receive funding, they will direct
their next project toward field tests to determine if this device is
proficient at diagnosing malaria in countries where the illness is most
[Sources: The New York Times; USA Today]