Key to the prevention of malaria spreading is early accurate diagnosis. This presents major challenges in many remote parts of the world often where the disease is most prevalent and testing laboratories far away from the point‑of‑need. A multidisciplinary team at Imperial College London has been developing Lacewing to address the diagnostic needs for malaria in low‑middle income countries.
The team is led by ProtonDx founder and Chief Executive Officer Professor Pantelis Georgiou from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Dr Aubrey Cunnington from the Department of Infectious Disease. They are co‑leads for the Digital Diagnostics for Africa Network, along with Professor Jake Baum from the Department of Life Sciences and ProtonDx Chief Scientific Officer Dr Jesus Rodriguez‑Manzano from the Department of Infectious Diseases. The team is augmented by Dr. Kenny Malpartida Cadenas, lead on the molecular biology, ProtonDx Chief Technical Officer Dr Nicolas Moser working on microchip technology and ProtonDx Head of Engineering, Matthew Cavuto on sample preparation and testing mechanisms.
Lacewing required several innovations, including making sure the multiplex lab‑on‑chip technology can detect all the species of parasite that cause malaria in humans, and designing thousands of microscopic sensors to detect the results of chemical reactions on the chip.
In addition, the ProtonDx team has developed an innovative sample collection and preparation technique that provides a remarkably pure and ampliﬁed DNA/RNA sample that is commensurate with the gold standard but without the requirement of laboratory processing. This revolutionary technique is already being utilised to prepare samples for testing by ProtonDx’s first product Dragonfly, a device which uses colorimetry to identify up to six pathogens at the same time within 30 minutes. Both Dragonfly and Lacewing, are linked to smartphone apps that provides the user and medical staff directly with the results. Data held in the cloud can be used to track the spread of disease.
The Imperial College team will be taking Lacewing out to African countries to test its efficacy in the field and calibrate its ability to detect very low levels of parasites in people without malaria symptoms. Crucially, treating people like this early will help slow the spread of disease.
ProtonDx Chairman Bob Enck said, “We are delighted at this recognition of the work of our talented multidisciplinary team and look forward to making a contribution to taming this pernicious disease.”
The eight initiatives at Imperial College London are:
Vaccines that mimic the natural immunity gained over time by children exposed to infection
Accelerating the abstraction of pure malaria parasites from infected mosquitos enabling the scalability and efficacy of malaria vaccine production
Suppressing malaria carrying mosquito populations by ‘gene drive’ technology
Innovation in stakeholder engagement with local communities, national authorities and international organisations.
Tracking mosquito behaviour in order to understand spread of disease and effects of interventions.
Providing rapid, low‑cost, portable diagnostic tools
Mathematical modelling to guide malaria control and elimination
Monitoring parasite evolution in order understand how it adapts against selective pressures.
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