Testing for Malaria and Cancer With a Simple Paper Strip

Malaria Testing Strips

Malaria fatality rates are certainly on the decline, with the world seeing a 60% decrease due to the implementation of bed nets, deterrent sprays, and other preventative tools since the year 2000.

Though this is a major improvement, the fact that in 2015 there were still 214 million new cases of malaria and 438,000 deaths due to the disease, proves that there is still much work to be done in eliminating the disease altogether. Abraham Badu-Tawiah, chemist at Ohio State University, has invented a 50-cent test strip that serves as an invaluable tool to assist in eliminating malaria.

Badu-Tawiah and fellow university chemists are currently developing these diagnostic test strips that will be able to detect not only malaria, but other deadly diseases as well. The test strips utilize a technology that consists of plain white paper, wax ink to secure the blood sample, and ionic probes that can withstand varied temperature and lighting conditions.

“Enzymes are picky. They have to be kept at just the right temperature and they can’t be stored dry or exposed to light, but the ionic probes are hardy,” stated Badu-Tawiah on the ionic advantage. “They are not affected by light, temperature, humidity—even the heat in Africa can’t do anything to them. So you can mail one of these strips to a hospital and know that it will be readable when it gets there.”

To test efficacy, the team of chemists re-tested the antibody strips every few days to ensure that the mass spectrometer used to detect the probes was still receiving the correct indicators. They discovered that even after 30 days, the tests were still accurate.

Limited access to medical care makes the resiliency of these strips a necessary feature. Those who use the strips simply drop a sample of blood on the strip, mail it in to the laboratory, and are only contacted to seek medical attention in the event of testing positive.

In a time where consumer demand for at-home diagnostic testing is at a peak, Badu-Tawiah sees opportunities for the testing strips in the United States as well as malaria-stricken low income countries.

The cost effective paper tests are also capable of detecting cancer antigen 125, an important diagnostic biomarker that indicates the presence of ovarian cancer. Approximately 20,000 women in the US get ovarian cancer each year, and the screening that discovers the cancer is typically only done once every 6 months unless specifically requested.

Manipulating the test strips to detect antibodies for additional types of cancers, and other diseases not easily detected, will have a profound impact on creating positive future health outcomes.

Sierra Kennedy
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