Every year, 3.2 billion people worldwide are at risk of being diagnosed with malaria, according to the World Health Organization. This high risk leads to about 198 million cases a year — so many that a child dies from the disease every minute, WHO says. People in developing countries are at the highest risk of becoming infected, and an inability to detect the disease quickly and at a low cost contributes to its spread.
John Lewandowski, co-founder and CEO of Disease Diagnostics Group, has invented a new way to diagnose the disease that addresses these problems. With two magnets and a laser pointer, he hopes to eradicate malaria from the globe.
The Rapid Assessment of Malaria device is the company's first prototype. Malaria is most commonly detected through a process called microscopy, where a medical worker adds a chemical to a patient's blood sample to make the malaria parasite easier to see and then analyzes the sample using a microscope. This method depends heavily on the expertise of the medical worker conducting the test, and the test itself takes about an hour.
Because the parasites that cause malaria consume red blood cells but are unable to digest the iron in them, Lewandowski created a test that shows whether or not there is iron in the bloodstream. The iron can be easily detected using magnets, and the results are much faster than current diagnostic methods.
The device itself costs about $250 to make and is reusable and portable. No training is required to perform the test on a patient. All of these factors make it much easier for the test to be transported and used in developing countries with limited resources.
The U.S. Navy is testing the prototype RAM device in Peru. If the tests are successful, the product will go to market soon for $2,000 a piece.
This technology is Lewandoski's first step toward what he hopes will be a series of revolutionary global health inventions he develops with his company. He wants to create more devices that can detect multiple diseases in a more cost-effective and accessible way, and he hopes to create a database of global health information with his tools.
"This company will be focused on tracking all of these infections to help organizations make decisions and finally build a patient database and healthcare system for the developing world," he told Mic.
Outside of his work with DDG, Lewandowski is working on his PhD in the Mechanosynthesis Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he focuses on researching low-cost diagnostics. As a global health researcher, he is optimistic about technology and engineering's ability to help save lives in the near future.
"I would love to see not only the average lifetime of people in developing countries increase due to lower death rate through earlier detection, and then subsequently eradication or isolation of major infectious diseases," Lewandowski said.