The Gates Foundation has funded a project at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) that uses the principles of magnetic levitation and cell phone technology to create an inexpensive, portable device to quickly and accurately diagnose malaria outside of the laboratory setting. The GCE received more than 2,500 grant submissions from 100 countries, and selected 88 projects, including that of Ionita Ghiran, MD, an investigator in the Division of Allergy and Inflammation at BIDMC, and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Ghiran has been awarded a $100,000 Grand Challenges Exploration Grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Grand Challenges Exploration (GCE) program funds scientists and researchers worldwide in the pursuit of novel ideas that can break the mold in solving persistent global health challenges.
“GCE winners are expanding the pipeline of ideas for serious global health and development challenges where creative thinking is most urgently needed,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “These grants are meant to spur on new discoveries that could ultimately help save millions of lives.”
Malaria causes nearly 1 million deaths per year throughout developing countries (85 percent of which are children under the age of 5) and parasites are becoming increasingly resistant to anti-malarial drugs, in part due to overdiagnosis.
“The lack of suitable methods of malaria diagnosis makes presumptive treatment often the only available option for local health service providers,” notes Ghiran. To address this challenge, Ghiran, in collaboration with Pierre Striehl, PhD, from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, developed an antibody-free diagnostic screening device which separates malaria-infected red blood cells from uninfected red blood cells by way of magnetic levitation.
“Our screening device is light-weight, disposable and inexpensive to manufacture,” he notes. The prototype system requires less than a drop of finger-prick blood and a small volume of red-blood-cell friendly buffer containing paramagnetic ions. Diagnostic results can be obtained within a few minutes solely by using a set of permanent magnets immobilized in a plastic structure surrounding a glass or plastic capillary containing the blood. Results are visualized, recorded and stored using a standard camera phone. No additional imaging equipment, or staining reagents are required.
“This method helps fill the need for malarial diagnostic technologies capable of promptly and reliably ascertaining true malarial infections in the field,” says Ghiran. “We hope that this will help prevent the overdiagnosis of malaria and subsequent drug resistance.”
Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, Grand Challenge Explorations grants have already been awarded to nearly 500 researchers from over 40 countries. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-up grant of up to $1 million.
Source: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center