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  • Malaria Detection Using Cell Phones Wins Gates Grant
May 2011
BEERSHEBA, Israel, May 15, 2011 — Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researcher Alberto Bilenca has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a fast, low-cost device to accuracy diagnose malaria without the need for blood collection in field settings.

Bilenca's project is based on a standard cell phone camera and a red laser pointer that can noninvasively obtain finger blood perfusion images with excellent resolution and contrast in less than 1 s. It uses the principles of optical polarization/speckle and cell phone technology built into a portable probe to creates images that detect malaria pigment (hemozoin crystals) in blood as well as micro-obstructions in the circulatory system that result from the infection.

In contrast to commercially available malaria tests, this probe will avoid the need for blood collection, maximizing medical safety, patient comfort and test rapidity. Malaria causes approximately 1 million deaths per year throughout developing countries (85 percent of which are children under the age of 5).

"Our diagnostic probe is portable, simple to use and inexpensive to produce," Bilenca said. "This probe helps meet the need for diagnostic technologies capable of noninvasive, reliable and rapid diagnosis of malaria in resource-limited areas. If successful, it will aid in the patient triage at hospitals and also be of tremendous value in monitoring these patients in intensive care settings, prompting aggressive treatment in severe malaria cases when necessary."

Bilenca was the recipient of one of 88 grants awarded to explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve global health. The $100,000 grants have been awarded to researchers from 25 countries. This marks the sixth round of funding from Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE), an initiative designed to help lower the barriers for testing innovative ideas in global health. Projects selected for funding are focused on polio eradication and vaccines, cell phone applications for global health, new approaches to cure HIV, sanitation technologies, and new ideas to improve the health of mothers and newborns. Winners were selected from more than 2500 proposals and approximately 100 countries.

Bilenca is a member of BGU's Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, where he is establishing a state-of-the-art laboratory in the fields of nano- and biomedical optics. He is collaborating with Dr. Linnie Golightly at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

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