Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Cheap and Rapid Malaria Test

Infrared light could soon form the basis of a test for malaria at a very early stage of its development.

“Malaria is tough to diagnose because only small numbers of immature parasites are present in the bloodstream,” explains Prof Leann Tilley of the University of Melbourne. “Once they mature, the parasites hide in the tissues. It is important to make an early diagnosis before the parasites lodge in brain capillaries, causing complications that can lead to death.”

Using the Australian Synchrotron, researchers were able to see the different life stages of the parasite that causes malaria, as well as variation in its fatty acids. The new technique, published in Analytical Chemistry, uses infrared light to detect the vibrations of fatty acids that mark the presence of the parasite.

A/Prof Bayden Wood of Monash University said not only did the test give clear results within minutes, but it gave a clear indication of malaria at a much earlier stage of infection than current tests on the market.

In the next phase of the research, Wood’s team will carry out clinical trials in Thailand, with the test possibly available within 3 years. The method may also be expanded to detect other blood-borne diseases.