Scientists a step closer to fighting malaria with world-first diagnostic tool

No roads

Associate Professor Bayden Wood and members of the No Road Expeditions group. Photo credit: Steve Morton

Monash University scientists, Associate Professor Bayden Wood and Dr David Perez-Guaita, will venture into remote rural areas of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in coming weeks to test a revolutionary new diagnostic tool in the fight against malaria.

The tool uses infrared spectroscopy to detect chemical signatures unique to the malaria parasite.

“Our battery powered device will ultimately provide people in remote communities with a cheap and easy way to detect malaria,” said research leader Associate Professor Wood, the Director of the Centre for Biospectroscopy.

“One of the main challenges in fighting malaria is that infected individuals can often present with no symptoms,” he said.

“Without advanced diagnostic equipment, this makes containing malaria near impossible.”

Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria, according to the World Health Organisation.

There are around one million malaria cases reported annually in PNG and as many as 800 people are dying each year in PNG

Associate Professor Wood’s new device will be sensitive enough to detect the malaria infection in those with no symptoms.

“This will finally allow remote communities to fight back against the malaria scourge,” Professor Wood said.

The research team will be assisted in the expedition by No Roads Expeditions Foundation (Aust) Ltd, an organisation who take clinical teams into the remote villages with the mission ‘to partner with aid agencies to deliver targeted health activities which benefit the people of Papua New Guinea’.

Monash researchers will work with a team of health care professionals and collect samples to test the spectrometer device.

The Monash team is hoping to collect 500 samples which they will then test for malaria. They will use the results to build a model for detecting malaria using their device.

“Current field tests are not sensitive enough to diagnose asymptomatic cases,” said Associate Professor Wood.

“This allows “carriers" to continue infecting communities – but our device can detect asymptomatic cases as it's far more sensitive.”

“It is hoped that our device will be able to detect other diseases or efficiencies simultaneously in the future,” he said.