Scientists who developed a device that can rapidly screen blood in minutes to detect disease-causing pathogens


The Monash scientists who developed the small game-changing device that can rapidly screen blood in minutes to detect disease-causing pathogens have now confirmed the successful operation of a cloud-based system based on spectroscopy.

The confirmation is detailed in a study published today in the Malaria Journal.

In recent years a research team led by Professor Bayden Wood and Dr. Philip Heraud from the Monash School of Chemistry and the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, respectively, has been testing the device.

The researchers most recently tested 318 patients presenting with malaria at four clinics in Thailand.

They used two portable infrared spectrometers operated from a laptop computer or a mobile telephone with in-built software that guided the user through the simple measurement steps.

Of the 318 patients, 151 returned positive samples and 167 were found to be negative.

Significantly, the testing proved highly accurate with only three samples returning false negatives, and two returning false positives compared with the gold standard genetic testing.

“The implications for wiping out malaria with our cloud-based technology are enormous,” said Professor Wood.

In 2016, there were 216 million cases of malaria worldwide resulting in an estimated 445,000 to 731,000 deaths, according to the World Malaria Report (WHO 2017).

“The combination of accessibility to mass screening, high sensitivity and specificity, low logistical requirements and portability, makes this approach a potentially outstanding tool in the context of malaria elimination programs,” Dr. Heraud said.

“Our study shows that ATR-FTIR spectroscopy has the potential to be developed as an efficient and reliable malaria diagnostic tool at point of care under tropical field conditions.”

Spectra could be analyzed via a cloud-based system, and the data fed back to the user—both aspects carried significant potential.

“The entire procedure requires only a portable spectrometer, and a mobile phone makes mass screening a definite possibility,” Professor Wood said.

“Indeed, the cloud-based analysis implies that health care personnel do not need to be skilled in anything else than collecting blood.

“Once we have optimized the procedure with finger-pricked blood rather than blood collected in tubes, the approach will be even easier to implement.

“The machine can be easily transported in a backpack, and power can be supplied from a portable solar panel, making the penetrance of the system into remote areas feasible.”

Centralised data analysis would allow investigators to learn about the epidemiology of malaria and potentially other ailments for which an Infrared signature is available.

“Many infectious diseases have the potential to fall in this category,” Professor Wood said.

Dr. Heraud said the research team had recently been extending their analysis to viral and bacterial infections.

“The demonstration of the successful operation of a cloud-based diagnostic cannot be overestimated,” he said.

The elimination of malaria required the ability to mass screen in remote regions to detect people carrying malaria.

Some of these people could appear to be healthy, but they harbored the parasite and acted as reservoirs for the spread of disease.

“We have invented a portable, rugged measurement system based on infrared spectroscopy capable of rapid, inexpensive mass screening which is ultra-sensitive with the potential to detect asymptomatic malaria carriers,” Dr. Heraud said.

“The test requires no reagents or consumables and uses augmented intelligence, cloud-based systems and has the ability to track the spread of disease.”

Journal information: Malaria Journal
Provided by Monash University

Scientists have developed a new device that can rapidly screen the blood in just minutes to detect a range of pathogens that cause disease, in a breakthrough that could fast-track the way disease or infection is diagnosed and treated.

Professor Bayden Wood, Co-Director Monash Centre for Biospectroscopy

Professor Bayden Wood, Co-Director Monash Centre for Biospectroscopy.
Image: ABC News (Eric Tlozek).

Monash biospectroscopists have just been issued a US patent for the diagnostic technology they hope will one day help doctors to diagnose and treat patients much faster than current pathology methods, which can take 24-48 hours to return blood sample results.

From a sample of blood, or other body fluids, it has the potential to diagnose serious diseases within an hour, including bacterial or fungal infection, HIV, hepatitis and diabetes. It can also create a full blood profile – testing for haemoglobin or blood-sugar levels, or urea in the blood, giving the overall health status of a patient simultaneously.

The technology is a small spectrometer that uses infrared light to analyse disease-causing pathogens in the blood. Each pathogen has a unique chemical fingerprint and it’s from this fingerprint a diagnosis can be done. The portable device weighs about seven kilograms and is powered by a small battery.

US patent was issued for the technology last year for its ability to detect malaria, but the multi-disease diagnostic has since been expanded with this second patent to detect all pathogens in blood. The patents, which have been licensed to Biotech Resources (Aust) Pty. Ltd. (BTR), are the first of a kind to utilise spectroscopy to quantify pathogens in blood. BTR will commercialise the product, to be known as ‘Aimalux’.

The diagnostic technique is the brainchild of co-inventors Dr Philip Heraud, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute and Co-Director of the Monash Centre for Biospectroscopy, Professor Bayden Wood, Co-Director the Monash Centre for Biospectroscopy, and Dr David Perez-Guaita, School of Chemistry.

The team is currently trialling patients in the detection of bacterial and fungal pathogens in the blood that cause the deadly bacterial infection sepsis, in collaboration with Professor Anton Peleg, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute and Alfred Hospital.

“This technology represents a paradigm shift for disease diagnostics and has such been recognised with patent rights,” Professor Wood said.

“It means doctors could triage a patient faster and more effectively than ever before – right at the point of care. Current techniques can take days to return a diagnosis – but this technique can provide initial diagnoses within an hour, allowing patients with life-threatening infections or illness to be treated without delay.”

The portable device is low cost, faster and more efficient, and suitable to withstand harsh environments, making it a game-changer for disease diagnostics in poor, remote communities. The researchers last year tested the device in remote villages in Papua New Guinea to detect those who harbour the malaria parasite.

“This type of field trial shows we also have the capacity to use this technology during humanitarian disasters or in refugee camps to rapidly diagnose disease and illness,” Dr Heraud said.

The next step is to commercialise and refine the technology. Researchers hope the device could be approved for used in hospitals and field settings in the next three to four years.


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