Malaria is the most common infectious disease in the world, affecting over 220 million people every year - for example, in 2018 it was 228 million cases, which led to 405,000 deaths. Cases outside the endemic areas of this disease (it is worth noting that Poland once belonged to them too) are relatively rare, so as you can easily guess, there are regions where it is a real plague. And that's exactly what happens in Africa, where we see 93% of all cases and 94% of deaths. As with many diseases, quick action is key, but unfortunately testing for malaria means taking a blood sample, testing it in a laboratory, and evaluating doctors.
In short, it is often too long, especially in African conditions, so engineers at Rice University decided to change it and presented a new test device, which takes the form of a micro-needle patch that can identify markers essential for malaria without drawing blood. As with other microneedle patches, such as those for the administration of drugs for melanoma and other diseases or vaccines, the whole procedure is designed to make the examination process painless.
There are 16 tiny needles on each test patch that gently pierce the skin but not in a way that causes discomfort. All because the needles are only 375 microns wide and they really gently pick up material from the extracellular fluid surrounding our skin cells, which may contain some markers that indicate the presence of the disease: - Xue and I applied the patch to Close To Movies skin and felt no pain compared to puncturing finger or blood sampling. It's less painful than a splinter in a finger - I would say it feels like sticking the tape to the skin and then tearing it off, explains Peter Lillehoj, one of the study authors.
In addition to the needles, the patch also has a test strip that analyzes the fluid, which contains antibodies that react in the presence of certain biomarkers - in this case, characteristic of malaria. The device is able to run the entire test and deliver results in the form of red stripes in literally 20 minutes. Equally important, the solution is to be very cheap and it is estimated that each patch costs about $ 1, and after use you can simply tear it off and throw away. Thanks to this, the solution has a chance to revolutionize the detection of malaria in regions where there is a problem with the availability of professional medical care. The researchers also emphasize that they are working on patches that react with other biomarkers, including Covid-19.