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Gates Foundation awards Ben-Gurion U. researcher grant for malaria detection using cell phones

BEER-SHEVA, Israel, May 5, 2011 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researcher Alberto Bilenca, Ph.D., has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop the a fast, low-cost device to accuracy diagnose malaria without the need for blood collection in field settings.

Bilenca's project is based on a standard camera cellphone and a red laser pointer that can noninvasively obtain finger blood perfusion images with excellent resolution and contrast in less of a second. It uses the principles of optical polarization/speckle and cellphone technology built into a portable probe that creates images that detect malaria pigment (hemozoin crystals) in blood as well as micro-obstructions in the circulatory system that result from the infection.

In contrast to commercially available malaria tests, this probe will avoid the need for blood collection, therefore maximizing medical safety, patient comfort and test rapidity. Malaria causes approximately 1 million deaths per year throughout developing countries (85 percent of which are children under five).

"Our diagnostic probe is portable, simple to use and inexpensive to produce," Bilenca explains. "This probe helps meet the need for diagnostic technologies capable of noninvasive, reliable and rapid diagnosis of malaria in resource-limited areas. If successful, it will aid in the patient triage at hospitals and also be of tremendous value in monitoring these patients in intensive care settings prompting aggressive treatment in severe malaria cases when necessary."

Bilenca received one of 88 grants awarded to explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve global health. The $100,000 grants have been awarded to researchers from 25 countries. This marks the sixth round of funding from Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE), an initiative designed to help lower the barriers for testing innovative ideas in global health. Projects selected for funding focused on polio eradication and vaccines, cellphone applications for global health, new approaches to cure HIV, sanitation technologies, and new ideas to improve the health of mothers and newborns. Winners were selected from more than 2,500 proposals and approximately 100 countries.

"GCE winners are expanding the pipeline of ideas to address serious global health and development challenges where creative thinking is most urgently needed. This effort is critical if we are to spur on new discoveries that ultimately could save millions more lives," said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Bilenca is a member of BGU's Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, where he is establishing a state-of-the-art laboratory in the fields of biomedical and nano optics. He is collaborating with Dr. Linnie Golightly, M.D. at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.


Contact: Andrew Lavin
American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

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