Industrial innovation could help humanity beat malaria

Sirish Shah survived malaria growing up in Africa. Now he is working to get his innovative diagnosis technology where it's needed most.

By Brian Murphy on February 27, 2013

(Edmonton) A University of Alberta researcher is working with funders and technology investors to get his malaria diagnosis equipment to equatorial Africa, where it’s needed most.

Sirish Shah knows how serious the need is for new technology that will bring fast and accurate diagnosis of the disease to malaria clinics in the developing world.

“I grew up in Africa; I survived malaria,” said Shah.

The statistics on malaria, a parasitic illness that plagues half the world’s population, mark it as one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian problems.

“Almost three-quarters of a million people die from malaria each year,” said Shah.

Shah and his chemical and materials engineering research team at the U of A transformed an image processing technology developed for an oilsands producer to a new use—identifying and counting malaria parasites in blood samples.

Shah says malaria clinics are overwhelmed, with technicians manually examining and counting malaria parasites in hundreds of individual blood samples every day. “Miscount the number of parasites and the results can be tragic,” said Shah.

“Our automated system uses digital photo technology to accurately and instantly analyze blood samples. The faster the diagnosis, the faster the treatment begins.”

The U of A researchers have proven the accuracy of their system in hundreds of test cases. They have great hopes for the end-users of their technology.

“I picture a day when technicians go door to door in African communities with a portable microscope and camera mounted on top,” said Shah.

“Something has to be done. Each minute a child in Africa dies of malaria.”

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