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Detecting malaria early to save lives: New optical technique promises rapid and accurate diagnosis
Date:4/18/2012

WASHINGTON, April 18Correctly and quickly diagnosing malaria is essential for effective and life-saving treatment. But rapid detection, particularly in remote areas, is not always possible because current methods are time-consuming and require precise instrumentation and highly skilled microscopic analysis. Now, a promising new optical imaging system, described in a paper published today in the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express, may make the diagnosis of this deadly disease much easier, faster, and more accurate.

The new system, developed by an international team of researchers, uses "speckle imaging," an optical sensing technique that measures the differences in how laser light bounces off the membranes of healthy and infected red blood cells. By comparing the apparently random scattering (speckling) of light as it builds up from multiple images, a clear statistical pattern emerges that identifies cells that harbor the parasite responsible for malaria. The team presents its preliminary results involving 25 cell samples (12 healthy, 13 infected) in the Biomedical Optics Express paper.

"A new diagnostic tool is urgently needed," notes Dan Cojoc, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a researcher at the Materials Technology Institute, National Research Council in Trieste, Italy. "With a fast, portable, low-cost, and accurate diagnostic tool, physicians can confidently and quickly administer the correct therapy."

According to the researchers, this timely diagnosis maximizes the likelihood of successful, life-saving treatment. It also minimizes the chances that inappropriate therapy will be given, which would help combat the growing problem of drug resistant malaria.

Malaria is most common in warm, wet climates where mosquitos thrive. It claims nearly one million lives a year, mostly of African children.

A Faster Path to Diagnosis

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Contact: Angela Stark
astark@osa.org
202-416-1443
Optical Society of America
Source:Eurekalert  

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