New malaria diagnosis technique could save thousands of lives
Instead of taking weeks to learn testing results, it now can take minutes.
There are some 200 million new cases of malaria each year that claim the lives of almost half a million people, the vast majority in Africa and India. In Kenya, only four in 10 children who are suspected of having malaria even have blood drawn for testing, and the diagnosis usually takes weeks to receive.
When it comes to diagnosing blood diseases like malaria, microscopy is still the gold standard. But that 150-year-old technique is slow and labor-intensive. Now, a team of Israelis has taken blood diagnostics into the computer age with a new technology that can diagnose malaria in just a matter of minutes.
“We came up with a computer vision-based approach that is able to conduct those same tests in just two minutes, in a completely automated manner, which offers better performance, better accuracy, at a fraction of the cost,” Sight Diagnostics CEO Yossi Pollak told CNBC.
Sight Diagnostics, based in Jerusalem, has a platform that uses computer technology to analyze blood samples for malarial parasites. It can scan up to 30 blood samples at a time and has been shown to be 99% accurate.
In some countries like Nigeria, doctors over-prescribe treatment for malaria because the cost of medication is low. The WHO recommends that only positive cases are treated to prevent the development of a resistance to antibiotics, but one study found 30% of cases in Nigeria to be misdiagnoses.
“A fast and accurate diagnosis, even at very low parasite levels, is critical since it can increase the chances of patient survival, while minimizing the chance of the disease spreading within the carrier’s community,” said Pollack, an alumnus of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
It only takes an hour to train a lab technician to use the machine, and that, combined with the speedy turnaround time, makes a malaria diagnosis as easy as a drop-in visit to the medical clinic.
Recently, Sight Diagnostics announced a new partnership with the U.S.-based BD Medical Supplies to bring the tests to India. BD plans to market the technology to hospital labs across India, as well as to blood banks, where malaria testing is mandatory for all donations.
“I am confident that this strategic collaboration equips us better than ever before in disease diagnostics and will catalyze BD's role in reducing the global malaria burden," said BD India's Varun Khanna in a press statement.
Sight Diagnostics’ initial focus has been on malaria, but Pollack says in the future they plan to expand the technology’s application to other blood diseases as well.
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