A multidisciplinary team from the School of Engineering and the School of Medicine of the University of Minho has developed a non-invasive optical device – MalariaChip – with fully integrated electronics, to efficiently diagnose malaria, in a few seconds, and directly on the patient’s skin. It represents a significant advancement in the state of the art and has the potential to achieve competitive diagnostic capabilities, meeting the growing clinical demands for reliable, rapid, user-friendly, and possibly quantitative diagnoses suitable for field use at the patient’s side.
MalariaChip is an autonomous, low cost per test and portable medical device, able to detect malaria based on optical reflectance spectrophotometry. Taking advantage of the malaria parasite particular optical features in infected blood, due to hemozoin formation (unique crystal of the parasite, not present in healthy blood), the main innovation herein disclosed is the on-chip optical detection of parasitic hemozoin through reflectance spectroscopy. It will allow super-fast and non-invasive detection, with no need for blood samples or finger prick, and with sensitivity competitive with the gold standard diagnosis (microscopy and rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs)).
Innovative Aspects and Main advantages
This solution may overcome the limitations of current diagnostic methods and be a real competitor in the market, by aiming a painless, re-usable, portable and autonomous device, able to be used everywhere (no need for reagents, laboratories, specialized technicians).
Fast diagnosis is a key advantage in the battle against malaria, as it helps to decrease the disease severity and its transmission, also limiting the expanding global impact of ever-increasing antimalarial drug resistance. There has been a significant economic effort in this battle. It is estimated, worldwide, an annual cost of 5038M USD for malaria control, with the malaria diagnosis market in expansion. The target stakeholders for this solution would include pharmaceutical and medical devices companies in the malaria diagnostics field.
Stage of Development
The detection principle was already tested in vitro in blood samples with cultured parasites. Using a top-bench setup, the team achieved distinction between healthy and infected samples, up to 12 parasites/µL of red blood cells. The team is now assessing the sensitivity of the detection directly on skin, and preliminary data from phantoms shows that the tissues components (including melanin) won´t have a significant effect on the acquires optical signals. The miniaturized prototype is under development.
Intellectual Property Rights
A PCT patent was Filed in September 2021 (PCT/IB2021/058926) and has entered national phases in Europe and US in March 2023.
The team is looking for companies willing to discuss research collaborations and/or licensing arrangements for commercial exploitation of the technology.