A graduate student taking mechanical engineering at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), John Lewandowski, assisted in the invention of a device that uses lasers and magnets to spot blood that is infected with malaria.
The device, known as a RAM (Rapid Assessment of Malaria), is battery-operated and small, therefore portable. It can easily be used in the field since testers have no need for specialized training. It can detect malaria even in individuals that have not yet begun to show symptoms.
The test is done very fast, about a minute, and the cost incurred for every test is 25 cents. He co-founded a company known as Disease Diagnostic Group (DDG) with Brian T. Grimberg so as to develop the device.
Grimberg is a malaria specialist and currently an assistant professor of international health at the Case Western Reserve University’s school of medicine. He was also Lewandowski’s faculty adviser during his undergraduate degree. Lewandowski is currently working on his doctorate in mechanical engineering, especially focusing on creating machines that utilize electronics instead of chemicals to assist in the diagnosis of diseases.
The new DDG device was awarded $100,000 by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. The managing director of the program, Elana Fine, noted that he could save very many lives very inexpensively. Fine also said that the competition was looking for an impactful idea from a strong entrepreneur and all this was seen in John.
Both founders of DDG realized that there was a need to develop a better diagnosis method for malaria. Current methods rely heavily on human visual assessment and skills. A blood sample is taken, mixed with a chemical to make it more visible and then placed under a microscope for the clinician to count the parasites. This could take an hour and the results will on the quality of the microscope and the prowess of the attending clinician.
The malarial parasites consume red blood cells but cannot digest the iron present in them. The iron is instead crystallized into rods in the patient’s bloodstream. The device uses this to single out the disease even in asymptomatic individuals.
A little water is mixed into a blood drop and then placed into the RAM. Strong neodymium magnets form a magnetic field around the blood sample and a lo-powered laser shoots a beam at it. A sample positive for the parasite will have the iron lining up in an order thus blocking the laser light. Measuring the amount of light passing through the sample will determine whether there is a malarial infection or not. This method has been found to be 93 percent effective.
It is definitely a major improvement from the current methods, where the best method stands at 87 percent efficiency. It will save on time and resources since asymptomatic patients can be treated before they can spread the disease too far.