A Missile Detector that can stop Malaria?

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malariaWhat can we do with a retired anti-tank Javelin missile-detector? Apparently we can use it to identify malaria parasites in blood. The detector is meant for sensing Javelin heat-seeking missiles and contains a focal plane array that gives specific information on a target area in minutes. Research published in the journal Analyst shows that this same technology works well in identifying malaria parasites in as little as a single blood cell by looking at how molecules vibrate.

The heat-seeking detector is first coupled with an infrared imaging microscope. The infrared signature of fatty acids in the malaria parasites allows scientists to identify the parasite at a very early stage of infection and determine the number of parasites in a blood sample. The ability to detect the parasites at such an early stage is significant since most current tests are only sensitive to the parasite in large quantity, once a person is severely infected. This heightened sensitivity can help reduce mortality and prevent the overuse of anti-malarial drugs by catching malaria at its earliest stages before symptoms appear and the disease takes hold.

Malaria kills 1.2 million people every year. The current testing methods also look for the parasite in blood samples but are very time-consuming, require a specialized technician, and can usually only spot infection once parasites have developed and multiplied. This new approach enables testing in 4 minutes on a small sample, even a single blood cell, and doesn’t require dedicated personnel. By preventing serious infection in people who might not have been identified as having the disease, scientists can eliminate reservoirs of the parasite that could reemerge and quickly spread through a community. Missile detectors might just become the gold standard in malaria testing and prevention.

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