The researchers have found a way to use magnetic resonance relaxometry (MRR), similar to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect a parasitic waste product in he blood of infected patients.
The current techniquie for detecting malaria by observing the blood sample under microscope after staining it with a special dye has been effective, but it still leavees room for human error.
Researchers says the new technique could be a more reliable way to detect malaria.
The researchers are launching a company to make this technology available at an affordable price. The team is also running field tests in Southeast Asia and is exploring powering the device on solar energy, an important consideration for poor rural areas.
In the blood-smear method, the technician stains the blood with a reagent that dyes cell nuclei. Red blood cells don’t have nuclei, so any that show up are presumed to belong to parasite cells. However, the tech and expertise needed to identify the parasite are not always available and technicians don’t always agree in their interpretations of the smears.
The new SMART system detects a parasitic waste product called hemozoin. When the parasites infect red blood cells, they feed on the nutrient-rich hemoglobin carried by the cells. As hemoglobin breaks down, it releases iron, which can be toxic, so the parasite converts it into hemozoin – a paramagnetic crystallite.
Those crystals interfere with the normal magnetic spins of hydrogen atoms. When exposed to a powerful magnetic field, hydrogen atoms align their spins in the same direction. When a second, smaller field perturbs the atoms, they should all change their spins in synchrony – but if another magnetic particle, such as hemozoin, is present, this synchrony is disrupted through a process called relaxation. The more magnetic particles are present, the more quickly the synchrony is disrupted.