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Team refines potentially game-changing malaria test

Two USC Viterbi students help make device smaller, safer and easier to use

Mosquito
Malaria is transmitted by some species of mosquitoes. (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Testing for malaria may soon be easier and safer, thanks to the work of two USC Viterbi School of Engineering biomedical engineering students and their partners.

Starting with little more than a couple of refrigerator magnets and a laser, the team including Ph.D. students Samantha McBirney and Alexa Hudnut reduced a trial malaria testing device to one-tenth its original size, eliminated the need for a custom-manufactured cuvette to hold the patient’s blood sample and prevented the tester from potentially being exposed to dangerous blood-borne pathogens.

The winning Disease Diagnostic Group team holding the microfluidic chip design. From left to right, Ilesha Sevak, Alexa Hudnut, John Lewandowski, Samantha McBirney and Fareeha Safir (Photo/USC Viterbi)

The winning Disease Diagnostic Group team holding the microfluidic chip design. From left to right, Ilesha Sevak, Alexa Hudnut, John Lewandowski, Samantha McBirney and Fareeha Safir (Photo/USC Viterbi)

McBirney and Hudnut’s team included the test’s creator, Massachusetts Institute of Technolgy Ph.D. student John Lewandowski, at an Institute of Electrical Electronics Engineers conference on medical technology.

Working around the clock for two days, the team eliminated the device’s original 4-by-3-by-2-inch plastic box and the cuvette, replacing them with a small, microfluidic chip. The chip would collect the blood from the patient’s finger prick, mix it with deionized water – the potentially risky step for the tester – and allow for a much smaller device, about one-tenth the size of the original.

Conference attendees selected the work as having the greatest potential for success from among the nine teams that made presentations. The Japanese chemical company Denka, which successfully tested Lewandowski’s earlier design, has agreed to test the new design and increase its investment.

McBirney and Hudnut, who work in USC Professor Andrea Armani’s research lab, will continue to team with Lewandowski long-distance to further develop and fabricate the device.

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Team refines potentially game-changing malaria test

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