Even though malaria kills more than 600,000 people every year, it’s often difficult to tell who has got it. For a proper test, you need skilled health care workers and sensitive chemicals. Both are often difficult to obtain in hard-hit regions like sub-Saharan Africa.
Now John Lewandowski, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks he has the answer. He helped invent a battery-powered machine that uses magnets and lasers to identify malaria-infected blood, and cofounded a company, Disease Diagnostic Group (DDG), to develop it.
The small device, called the Rapid Assessment of Malaria (RAM), is portable and easy to use in the field; testers do not need specialized medical training. Each test can be done in about one minute, and cheaply — for about 25 cents. Importantly, it can also detect malarial infections in people who do not yet show symptoms of the disease.