Nanomal device can analyze malaria DNA in 15 minutes

February 5, 2016 – LONDON. The Nanomal consortium led by St George’s University of London and Newcastle-based QuantuMDx Group is using cutting-edge nanotechnology to develop an affordable, easy to use smartphone-like device able to analyse the DNA of different malaria strains from a finger-prick of blood in just 15 minutes. This will enable targeted “personalised” prescription of drug combinations.

Today the FP7 European Union-funded Euro €5.2 million project consortium is able to report that a prototype Nanomal device will be ready for field-testing later this year, one year ahead of schedule. Nanomal lead Professor Sanjeev Krishna, from St George’s, said: “Recent research suggests there’s a real danger that current artemisinin combination therapies could eventually become obsolete, in the same way as other anti-malarials. This risk is worsened when patients presenting with a fever are given anti-malarial drugs without an analysis of the malaria parasites’ drug resistance status, or even without a diagnostic test at all, thereby reducing the treatments’ effectiveness.”

The Nanomal device will use a range of novel nanotechnologies to rapidly analyse the malarial DNA from just a finger-prick of blood. The sample is processed and a nanowire biosensor detects DNA sequences of interest. This provides a malaria diagnosis, speciation and drug resistance information in 15 minutes, allowing an effective “personalised” drug combination to be given immediately.

The smartphone-like device will be easy to use: a healthcare worker simply puts the sample into the device, presses a few buttons and waits for the result, making it ideal for use in the field.

QuantuMDx’s CEO Elaine Warburton said: “Placing a full malaria screen with drug resistance status based on accurate DNA analysis in the palm of a health professional’s hand will allow instant prescribing of the most effective anti-malaria medication for that patient. Nanomal’s rapid, low-cost DNA testing will further support the global health challenge to eradicate malaria.”

The device aims to provide the same quality of result as a referral laboratory, at a fraction of the time and cost. Each device could cost about the price of a smart phone initially, but may be distributed free in developing countries. A single-test cartridge will be around $13 (£10) initially, but the goal is to reduce this cost to ensure affordability in resource-limited settings.

In addition to improving immediate patient outcomes, the project will allow the researchers to build a better picture of levels of drug resistance in stricken areas. It will also give them information on population impacts of anti-malarial interventions. The technology could also be adopted for use with other infectious diseases.

Source: The Nanomal consortium

Other partners in the project are the Karolinksa Institutet in Sweden and Tübingen University in Germany.