Just add water: DIY testing kit could save millions of lives, scientist says

By Isaac Nowroozi

Updated August 16, 2018 09:28:51

A remote medical kit that diagnoses diseases in real time could save millions of lives and reduce the impact of illness in vulnerable areas, its creator says.

Key points:

  • The kit needs three things — a sample, water and a smartphone
  • Scientists say it is a significantly cheaper option than typical tests
  • It has the potential to save lives in remote areas

The "do-it-yourself" kit, being developed by an Australian National University scientist, would allow people in remote areas to easily and cheaply test their own samples for diseases such as malaria.

It would fast-track their results and possibly their recovery — and all it needs is a fluid sample, water and a smartphone.

Dr Lee Alissandratos from the ANU's Research School of Chemistry said the kit would prevent the need for samples to be sent to labs for diagnostic tests, which were not accessible to many regional communities.

"It will provide access to testing for the populations that previously simply did not have access because it [the lab] was too far away," he said.

When added to the kit, the water creates a microorganism that produces the biological reactions that detect the malarial parasite.

"Early detection of microorganisms that cause diseases, such as malaria, is critical in the global fight to control and eradicate some of the most devastating diseases around the world," Dr Alissandratos said.

"In a lot of cases these are diseases where initially there are no symptoms and by the time symptoms are there you've got outbreaks."

How does it work?

The tests require a blood, urine or saliva sample.

After water is added to the fluid, a small handheld device (such as a smartphone) is used to detect if and what diseases are in the sample.

Dr Alissandratos said he had designed it for anyone to use — with no health professional needed — at a far cheaper cost than current tests, which require a lot of ingredients.

"For typical tests you're probably looking at dollars per pop … we're talking about cents per pop," Dr Alissandratos said.

He said the kits were also small, easily transportable and could be stored at room temperature.

Helping more than humans

Dr Alissandratos said the kits would greatly benefit developing countries where life-threatening diseases like malaria are rife.

But he said they could also detect a range of illness, including those not limited to people.

"It can be applied to animal pathogens and plant pathogens, so even farmers in remote settings could use these to detect outbreaks," he said.

ANU acting vice-chancellor Mike Calford said the work had the potential to change the lives of millions globally.

The kits, funded by a US$100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are set to be fully developed within 18 months.

Topics: science-and-technology, research, research-organisations, diseases-and-disorders, malaria, health, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted August 16, 2018 09:25:04