Malaria Detecting Lasers

Developing new diagnostic technologies involves both scientific research and clinical applicability. That is why the partnership between John Bischof, Ph.D., a mechanical engineer at the University of Minnesota, and Bobbi Pritt, M.D., a clinical microbiologist at Mayo Clinic, works so well. The pair has combined their expertise to build a new malaria detecting laser.

Malaria cases have dropped by nearly 40% over the last 15 years with the introduction of rapid diagnostic tests. While these tests are fast, they are not sensitive enough to pick up low levels of the disease. Dr. Bischof and Dr. Pritt aim to build a device that produces a fast, but more accurate diagnosis of Malaria.

“Neither of us could have done this on our own,” says Dr. Pritt. “Our skills nicely complement one another. They bring the science, but then we get it ready so it can actually be used for patients. ”

Awarded funding from the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics , the doctors were able to explore an exciting new technology that had not been fully tested yet. Dr. Bischof and the University of Minnesota developed the technology and built the prototypes. The second prototype, a smaller laser, was then transported to Mayo Clinic, where Dr. Pritt began testing clinical specimens and troubleshooting the device.

The pair will continue to work to refine the technology and produce a more practical device. The end product will be about the size of a tissue box, making it easy to incorporate into lab settings and potentially the field.

“I think it has been a really valuable and interesting experience,” says Dr. Pritt. “We’re all learning from this process and at the same time, we’re very optimistic about what we will be able to provide out of this.”