Portable Malaria Screening Instrument Offers Speedy Early Stage Diagnosis in Low-resource Environments

Portable Rapid Early Stage Malaria Screening

Malaria remains one of the deadliest diseases around the world. The spread of the infection and the death toll caused by the disease might decrease this year as early stage diagnosis is more possible. Thanks to the new portable malaria screening instrument developed by researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

This new instrument, the portable optical diagnostics system (PODS) prototype delivers rapid screening for all malaria strains. It delivers early-stage diagnosis where malaria therapeutics can be most effective.

The PODs is easy to carry. It is lightweight and designed to solve the challenges limiting current systems. The current prototype weighs fewer than 10 pounds, is 12 by 10 inches (the size of a large shoebox), and can be powered by a battery for eight hours.

The wonders of the new invention were confirmed by corresponding author Andrea Armani, the Ray Irani Chair in Engineering and Materials Science. The lab is located in the new USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience.

With PODS, we can do rapid, broad population screening for malaria in low-resource environments. When combined with currently available therapeutics, this could represent a tipping point in the global fight against malaria,” says Armani.

The portable optical diagnostics system (PODS) prototype was developed by USC Viterbi engineers Andrea Armani, Samantha McBirney, Dongyu Chen, and Alexis Scholtz.

The Limitations of Traditional Ways of Diagnosing Malaria

The researchers believe that early-stage diagnosis is crucial to treatment of malaria. The two standard ways of diagnosing malaria both have limitations and early-stage diagnosis can be hard to attain.

The first involves taking a blood sample from a person and looking at it underneath a microscope for red blood cells that have been infected with the malaria parasite. This involves counting cells. That is manually intensive and dependent on the technician reading the blood smears. The second approach, known as the rapid diagnostic test (RDT), works in about 15 minutes. However, without refrigeration, RDTs can spoil like milk or eggs.

Given these limitations and to finally find a solution to end the scourge of malaria, the researchers were on a mission to come up with a portable instrument . They also wanted special features that offer effective malaria diagnostics in low-resource environments. But with so much handwork, the PODs was developed and the result is quite promising.

Samantha McBirney said, “While malaria may not be a concern for those of us living in developed countries, it’s still the leading cause of death in the world, and of the hundreds of thousands of deaths every year, nearly 70% of those are children under 5 years old. These aren’t deaths occurring in the last five years of life, when someone has already lived out their hopes and dreams, when someone already has a family and has lived their life to the fullest – these are deaths occurring before a child even knows their place in this world, before they even know why they are here. This is heartbreaking. If we can play even the smallest role in eradication, that would be tremendous.”

Mina Fabulous
Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.