Diagnosing malaria from a single cell

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  • Published: Jul 31, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: X-ray Spectrometry / Raman / Infrared Spectroscopy / Base Peak / Chemometrics & Informatics / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / NMR Knowledge Base / MRI Spectroscopy / Atomic / Proteomics

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Despite our best efforts, malaria remains a killer disease with the number of global deaths recorded by the World Health Organization estimated at 627,000 in 2012, although a recent report in The Lancet suggests that it could be double that figure.

On top of that, it has just been confirmed in the New England Journal of Medicine that the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in Asia is developing resistance to artemisinin, the main drug used to combat the disease.

Whatever the true figures, it is clear that rapid and accurate methods should be in place for malaria diagnosis and a team of scientists from Australia, Germany and the USA has published a new approach with which they predict "a new laboratory-based gold standard for malaria diagnosis utilising FTIR focal plane array imaging is on the horizon." It has been described in the Analyst and features an accurate way of recognising single blood cells that have been infected by Plasmodium falciparum.

Using a focal plane array IR microscope in conjunction with a synchrotron light source the research team analysed infected blood smears and found that the FTIR spectra differed from those of uninfected cells. The differences were largely attributed to signals from lipids associated with the parasite. Following intervention by mathematical processes, the individual cells could be visualised in the photomicrographs.

Focusing on a particular region in the spectra at 3100-2800 cm–1, a principal components analysis grouped together the infected cells and allowed malaria diagnosis to be performed accurately. This process identified some of the different stages of the infection.

The main problem with the method at this stage is the need for a synchrotron source to achieve the desired contrast. However, the research team recognised that developments in laser technology for cell and tissue analysis will help to drive the method forward and make it more accessible to clinical scientists.

Image: CDC / James Stewart

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