When the malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite chomps through red blood cells, it leaves a tell-tale trace of magnetic poo as it digests iron-rich haemoglobin. The discovery that this waste product, called haemozoin, can be detected by Magnetic Resonance Relaxometry (MRR) scanning has created the intriguing possibility of a new test for the disease. More than 200 million people are infected with malaria each year and many die because regions where it’s endemic lack the facilities for diagnosis. A standard test is to examine a smear of blood under a microscope – pictured is a sample showing dots, stained purple, that are characteristic of blood cells infected with two common varieties of Plasmodium. Scientists who developed the magnetic scanning test claim it could provide a simpler, faster, more accurate and cheaper alternative to the existing method.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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