Wednesday March 20, 2019

Brian Gitta: A Malaria Test That Would Not Need Blood Samples

The new malaria test kit works by shining a red beam of light onto a finger

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A health service worker takes a blood sample for a malaria test in Dajabon, Dominican Republic, on the border with Haiti, Oct. 6, 2009. A test that doesn't require a needle or blood has won the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation
A health service worker takes a blood sample for a malaria test in Dajabon, Dominican Republic, on the border with Haiti, Oct. 6, 2009. A test that doesn't require a needle or blood has won the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, VOA

Languishing with fever and frustrated by delays in diagnosing his illness, Brian Gitta came up with a bright idea: a malaria test that would not need blood samples or specialized laboratory technicians.

That inspiration has won the 25-year-old Ugandan computer scientist a prestigious engineering prize for a noninvasive malaria test kit that he hopes will be widely used across Africa.

For developing the reusable test kit known as Matibabu, Gitta this month was awarded the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. The award by the Royal Academy of Engineering in Britain comes with $32,940.

Malaria is the biggest killer in Africa, and the sub-Saharan region accounts for about 80 percent of the world’s malaria cases and deaths. Cases rose to 216 million in 2016, up from 211 million cases in 2015, according to the latest World Malaria Report, released late last year. Malaria deaths fell by 1,000, to 445,000.

The mosquito-borne disease is a challenge to prevent, with increasing resistance reported to both drugs and insecticides.

No needles

The new malaria test kit works by shining a red beam of light onto a finger to detect changes in the shape, color and concentration of red blood cells, all of which are affected by malaria. The results are sent within a minute to a computer or mobile phone linked to the device.

A Portugal-based firm has been contracted to produce the components for Matibabu, the Swahili word for “treatment.”

“It’s a perfect example of how engineering can unlock development, in this case by improving health care,” Rebecca Enonchong, Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation judge, said in a statement. “Matibabu is simply a game changer.”

A woman carrying a baby holds a treated mosquito net during a malaria prevention action at Ajah in Eti Osa East district of Lagos, Nigeria, April 21, 2016.
A woman carrying a baby holds a treated mosquito net during a malaria prevention action at Ajah in Eti Osa East district of Lagos, Nigeria, April 21, 2016. VOA

Gitta and five colleagues, all trained in computer science or engineering, developed an affordable, bloodless test that does not need a specialist to operate. The new test will be suitable for use in Africa’s rural areas, where most cases of malaria occur, because it will not depend on sending blood samples to a distant laboratory.

Others are also working to fill the need for quicker, easier malaria tests. There are more than 200 rapid diagnostic test products for malaria on the market, according to the WHO.

80 percent accurate now

The fifth-generation prototype of Matibabu, with an accuracy rate of 80 percent, is still a work in process. Gitta and his group aim to refine the device until it achieves an accuracy rate exceeding 90 percent.

Matibabu has yet to be formally subjected to all the necessary clinical trials under Ugandan safety and ethics regulations.

“It excites me as a clinician,” said Medard Bitekyerezo, a Ugandan physician who chairs the National Drug Authority. “I think the National Drug Authority will approve it.”

The government should invest in the project so that its developers don’t struggle financially, he added. The unit cost of the latest prototype is about $100.

Despite the optimism, Gitta has found a hurdle he didn’t anticipate: Some patients are skeptical of unfamiliar technology.

“The doctors will tell you that some people will not leave the hospital until their children have been pricked, and until they have been given anti-malaria drugs and painkillers, even if the kid is not sick,” he said.

Also read: From Radio Signals A Pill Could Tell About Gut Health And Help Doctors

“We think we are developing for hospitals first, so that people can first get attached to the brand, and gain the trust of patients over time.” (VOA)

Next Story

New Finding! Blood Test That Could Detect Risk Of Pre-Term Delivery

"Our goal is to develop prognostic markers for patients to help make predictions and offer highly personalised care to woman from early stages of pregnancy,"

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Mothers with history of pre-term deliveries face higher risks. But predicting spontaneous pre-term birth is challenging, particularly in the case of first-time mothers, the team said. Pixabay

Researchers are working on a blood test that could be able to detect risk of spontaneous pre-term delivery.
According to a study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, five micro particle proteins found in first-trimester blood samples may give clues about the risk of spontaneous pre-term birth.

“Our goal is to develop prognostic markers for patients to help make predictions and offer highly personalised care to woman from early stages of pregnancy,” said co-author Thomas McElrath from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US.

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Mothers with history of pre-term deliveries face higher risks. But predicting spontaneous pre-term birth is challenging, particularly in the case of first-time mothers, the team said. Pixabay

According to researchers, nearly 10 per cent births are taking place before 37-week gestation against the normal 40 weeks. Pre-term birth can result in several conditions, including pre-term labour, early rupture of the placental membrane or preeclampsia.

Mothers with history of pre-term deliveries face higher risks. But predicting spontaneous pre-term birth is challenging, particularly in the case of first-time mothers, the team said.

For the study, researchers studied blood samples, collected toward the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, from three established biobanks.

pregnancy
Mothers with history of pre-term deliveries face higher risks. But predicting spontaneous pre-term birth is challenging, particularly in the case of first-time mothers, the team said. Pixabay

Also Read: Attention! Signs You Should Not Ignore While Travelling Linked To CVD
The team compared samples from 87 women who delivered at or before 35 weeks with samples from 174 women who delivered at term and were of the same age and at the same week of pregnancy at the time giving blood.

They analysed multiple circulating micro particles associated proteins and found that a subset of these proteins could help predict risks, both for the first-time mothers as well as those who had previously given birth. (IANS)