New FTIR test for malaria gives results in minutes

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  • Published: Apr 24, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Chemometrics & Informatics / Infrared Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: New FTIR test for malaria gives results in minutes

A rapid malaria test uses ATR-FTIR spectroscopy to detect lipids and the pigment hemozoin in red blood cells at different stages of infection.

Although several established tests already exist for detecting malaria infection, each one appears to have some unsatisfactory properties. For example, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is regarded as the most sensitive and specific test but it takes a long time to get results, using relatively expensive equipment. The method of choice is often optical microscopy of blood smears because it is cheap and sensitive but it suffers from the need for experienced personnel.

Now, Australian scientists believe they have come up with a viable alternative which provides results in less than three minutes without needing specialised lab staff. It involves total reflectance Fourier transform infrared (ATR FTIR) spectroscopy of red blood cells, backed up by statistical models to interpret the data.

Writing in Analytical Chemistry, Bayden Wood and colleagues from Monash University and the University of Melbourne describe how the spectra of the various developmental stages of the malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, differ due to variations in the pigment hemozoin and the associated lipids. Principal components analysis clearly differentiated the stages and a model based on partial least squares regression was able to predict the degree of parasitaemia infection in the red blood cells.

The method was incredibly sensitive, detecting less than one parasite in 1 µL of blood, although the quantification limit is higher. The next stage will involve the assessment of imaging ATR instruments so that multiple samples can be processed.

"ATR-FT-IR spectroscopy, in combination with partial least-squares regression models, has the required ease of sample preparation, sensitivity, and quantification ability to become a laboratory standard for malaria detection and most importantly quantification," claim the research team.

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