Accurately Analyzing Malaria Tests in Difficult Conditions is a Matter of Life and Death

Having lived for several years in Southeast Asia, I traveled through regions with increased malaria drug resistance and know firsthand what staying in an area with a high risk of malaria infection is like and the intense anxiety it can cause. Even people who have the economic ability to obtain and use anti-malarial drugs have no assurance that they are protected against malaria infections. They grapple with possible side effects of the drugs (e.g. seizures, neuro-psychiatric disorders, eye damage, sunlight sensitivity, nausea and others). And even with the high heat and humidity, people keep themselves and their children swaddled in clothes to avoid skin exposure; parents worry about children being outside and being bitten by mosquitoes.

This is part of my motivation to work as a part of the GE Global Research team that has partnered with Global Good to develop products uniquely positioned to make a difference in malaria care and treatment in the developing world. GE Global Research is collaborating with Global Good to develop a diagnostic test platform for malaria.

The project team at GE is headed by Matt Misner, who oversees both the assay and the reader development team. As a member of the reader team I will pursue the development of an instrument for the rapid analysis of Malaria Rapid Diagnostic Tests, or RDTs, with the goals of increasing test sensitivity while keeping the cost low. This team includes optical engineering experts, led by Xiaolei Shi of the Applied Optics Lab, as well as electrical engineers, and software and manufacturing experts. The goal is to design and build a manufacturable instrument prototype that can quickly and accurately read the test, which is similar to an at-home pregnancy test. The instrument will automatically read and analyze the test results, provide them to the user and store them for documentation.

We are first characterizing the existing first-generation prototype system that was developed at Global Good. Then we will work on improving the performance while decreasing cost, size and weight as well as ensuring design manufacturability. Of particular importance is that the instrument is rugged, easy to use with minimal training and able to be powered by varied sources of electricity. Areas in the developing world where malaria is prevalent often lack infrastructure and a stable electrical grid. We anticipate that the instrument frequently will be powered by generator, battery or solar power. For the transport and operation in remote locations the reader will need to be ruggedized, and be able to function with minimal maintenance.

My team is working in close coordination with Matt Misner’s team, which is developing new materials and reagents for the lateral flow assay, and John Nelson’s team, which is developing the bio-components. Matt and John, as well as Dave Moore, have written about their experiences on the team. Having all of the teams work so closely together throughout the reader development process will ensure a synergistic fit of the technologies.

The Microsystems Lab at GE Global Research, managed by Todd Miller, is the home of a strong multidisciplinary team with expertise in MEMS, bio-engineering, microfluidics and prototype-production development. Projects in our group range from the development of new imaging solutions for cancer biopsies, nucleic acid extraction instruments that can extract DNA from a targeted area on a thin slice of tissue, flow cytometers, single cell analysis to MEMS devices for application in healthcare, oil & gas, communication and navigation. We have the ability to develop integrated system-level solutions that can be transitioned to manufacturing, and, as on this Global Good project, frequently collaborate with external labs when our expertise is needed.

Read more about our partnership with Global Good in GE Reports and in blog posts by team members Matt Misner, Dave Moore, and John Nelson.

1 Comment

  1. Berdj Joseph Rassam

    It is a matter of life and death, and so I hope you guys at GE achieve your goals.