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New invention aids detection of prevalent parasitic disease

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have invented a device that can detect very small quantities of the parasite eggs that cause schistosomiasis in humans which are currently difficult to detect.

Schistosomiasis is second only to malaria as the most globally devastating parasitic disease and can be deadly if left untreated, but curable if detected early. It affects 250 million people globally every year,10 times the population of Australia, and is most prevalent in poorer and rural parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The eggs are difficult to detect when in small quantities using current detection methods, which can delay critical treatment for people that contract the debilitating disease, however the new device will change this.

Credit: The University of Western Australia

Credit: The University of Western Australia

It works by using a magnetic field to detect the eggs in small quantities. Researchers from UWA’s School of Physics invented the device in collaboration with the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) in Brazil.

Lead inventor Professor Tim St Pierre from UWA’s School of Physics said the device, which looks like a syringe, uses a magnetic force to attract the parasitic eggs into a small droplet.

“A sample of human faeces is stirred with the device, attracting the eggs. After withdrawal from the sample, the magnetic force is ‘switched off’ to release the eggs onto a microscope slide for examination with an optical microscope to search for the eggs,” Professor St Pierre said.

“The prototype we created is highly effective and will reduce the time taken to search for the eggs from hours to a matter of minutes. This will help detect the disease early at a critical stage, to enable treatment to start early.”

Dr Renata Candido, UWA Research Associate and one of the inventors, said current techniques failed to diagnose patients if there were fewer than 100 eggs per gram of faeces, but the new technology could detect eggs down to at least three or four eggs per gram of faeces and probably lower.

“The device is also very low cost, which will help make it easily accessible across the globe, particularly for poorer regions in the world where the disease is most prevalent,” Dr Candido said.

The device has been patented and a partnership to support the commercialisation of the invention is being offered through UWA’s Research Development and Innovation office.

The researchers hope to continue testing the device to see if it may be used in the diagnosis of other major parasitic diseases globally such as trichuriasis (caused by whipworm) and ascariasis (caused by a species of roundworm).

Source: The University of Western Australia