Malaria detector uses patients' eyes to quickly diagnose

Engineering students working under David Rice, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Tulane University in New Orleans, have applied for a patent for a less expensive, quicker method for detecting malaria.

The students have created a small, portable device that can scan the retina for changes that might occur during malaria infection. These changes come in the form of various wavelengths that a malaria-infected eye reflects, according to the the Times-Picayune.

Current methods of detection require blood to be drawn and examined under a microscope by a technician. While there is no anti-malaria vaccine, travelers to areas where the disease occurs can take pills to keep it at bay. The disease is also treatable, though it affects close to 250 million people every year.

A reduction of cost in detection methods would be helpful to the World Health Organization’s anti-malaria campaign ,which was short of its $6 billion dollar fundraising goal for 2010, having raised only $1.8 billion, according to a statement made in mid-December, the New York Times reports.

The number of deaths from malaria has declined by 21 percent over the last nine years, from 985,000 in 2000 to 781,000 in 2009, though the number of total cases only dropped from 233 million to 225 million during that time. Most of the victims from the disease are under the age of five.