Testing for malaria could become as simple as putting on a band-aid. At least, that’s what a recent medical development promises with a simple device featuring a microneedle patch that can rapidly detect the presence of malaria.
The novel test taps into protein biomarkers contained in interstitial fluid, also called extracellular fluid — which is what people generally recognize as the fluid inside blisters but surrounds all of our body’s cells. The fluid is the source of a multitude of biomarkers for various diseases, such as malaria, which can be used for rapid testing.
“In this paper, we focus on malaria detection… But we can adapt this technology to detect other diseases for which biomarkers appear in interstitial fluid,” says Peter Lillehoj, an associate professor at Rice University.
The test, which looks like a sticky patch, consists of 16 hollow microneedles on one side, coupled with an antibody-based lateral-flow test strip on the other. When the antibodies sense protein biomarkers for malaria, they react by displaying two red lines on the strip’s exposed surface. If the test is negative, it displays only one line.
The needles, only measuring 750 microns longs and 373 microns wide, are attracted to water, so the fluid is drawn in and flows through to the test strip. Once the test is complete, the device can be removed like any bandage.
In addition to being virtually painless, the tests can deliver a result in about 20 minutes and does not require medical expertise or any other equipment.
As Lillehoj claims, although microneedles and antibody tests strips are nothing new, their test is the first one to combine them into a simple, inexpensive package that can be easily manufactured and deployed where needed, especially in developing regions where finger-prick blood sampling and the availability of trained medical staff to diagnose samples may pose a challenge.