At present, doctors use costly equipment to test for malaria. The new test only needs a person to place a finger on the laser device. Doctor Dmitri Lopotko is with Rice University in Houston, Texas. He says the scanner works by shining a very short pulse of light through the skin.
The light comes from a low-powered laser. It shines on a very small particle called the hemozoin. The malaria parasite produces hemozoin when it infects red blood cells. Hemozoin crystals are not found in blood cells that are free of the disease.
As the laser heats the crystals, they create small bubbles inside infected cells. Doctor Lopotko says the bubbles exploded, making a sound that scientists can hear and count. He says that in tests, the laser scanner was never wrong. It also identified the malaria infection early, when treatment is important.
The device is easy to carry, and operates on battery power. It costs about 10,000 to 20,000 dollars to make. Doctor Lopotko estimates that each laser beam scanner could test more than 200 000 people a year. He says that means the costs of testing would be less than 50 cents for each patient. An article describing the malaria testing device was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.