Origami diagnostic tests offer faster, more cost-effective, in-field malaria detection

Published: 3 February 2022

New tests for malaria which uses origami-style folded paper to deliver fast, accurate and affordable diagnoses could help the global fight against the disease.

New tests for malaria which uses origami-style folded paper to deliver fast, accurate and affordable diagnoses could help the global fight against the disease.

Malaria is one of the world’s leading causes of illness and death, affecting around 228 million people each year. Accurate community diagnosis is important for devising effective treatment strategies at both local and national levels, but the cost and convenience of existing tests is often prohibitive.

University of Glasgow researchers have devised low-cost DNA based diagnostic tools that can be deployed in field settings, without access to specialist diagnostic facilities, to help contain the spread of the disease.

Tackling the spread of malaria

The research team, led by Professor Jon Cooper and Dr Julien Reboud, have developed a unique paper-microfluidic diagnostic platform, equivalent to a lateral flow device, that brings rapid and accurate DNA testing to low-resource rural areas in Uganda. The simplicity of the device ensures that non-expert technicians and healthcare workers in Uganda can test and diagnose individuals with ease.

The testing system uses sheets of folded wax paper to prepare patient samples and delivers lateral-flow results similar to COVID-19 home tests in around 30 minutes with 98% accuracy.

Working together

Funding from the UK Global Challenges Research Fund has enabled the research team to work with healthcare technicians to validate the strip-based sensor on the device, ensuring easy-to-read results.

Professor Cooper explains: “We started our field studies by making relatively small numbers of tests but have now reached a point where we can make an impact on local communities.

We’ve worked very closely with the Uganda Ministry of Health, developing the tests with them so that they can be used and interpretated ‘at the point of care’ within rural low-resource settings, often where there’s no running water or power.

Our aim is ultimately in informing individuals’ treatment pathways. Widespread uptake of a system like this could have a significant impact on efforts to eliminate malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The team have also been working on detecting schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms, which infects 240 million people worldwide. They carried out field testing in Uganda, where trials at a local school identified high levels of previously undetected schistosomiasis infection, leading to mass drug administration of 940 children in the school.

The diagnostic techniques have been further developed by integration with mobile phone enabled digital health platforms to allow decision support and to collate data in a secure manner.

Next steps

Most recently, the research team have adapted the device to provide testing for hepatitis C, a promising development towards the WHO aim of eliminating the disease by 2030. The team are aiming to use the system in field trials in sub-Saharan Africa in 2023.

In addition to the significant advances in tackling neglected tropical diseases, the research has also resulted in collaboration with UK business.

Mologic Ltd, a lead developer of lateral flow and rapid diagnostic technologies, are working with Glasgow to adapt the technology for nucleic acid-based detection of Covid 19 on lateral flow strips.

Mologic, who currently have manufacturing facilities in the UK and in Senegal, work closely in partnership with The Gates Foundation and UK Aid, and would like to develop, validate and manufacture the new product/platform through a social enterprise spin-out called Global Access Diagnostics (without shareholders and delinked from commercial return to provide rapid responses to global pandemics).

“Collaboration with the University of Glasgow enabled us to work with world-leading engineers who have the time, expertise and funding to direct themselves towards global health. The low-cost tests created by the University of Glasgow are game changers.” Emily Adams, Director of Dpidemics and Neglected Tropical Diseases, Mologic

Origami diagnostic tests

Origami diagnostic tests for fast, cost-effective, in-field malaria detection

First published: 3 February 2022