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Zapping Malaria: One Mosquito At A Time

May 11, 2010

Intellectual Ventures have come up with a very novel approach of controlling Malaria, using a laser to target the mosquito, figure out if its male or female and then zap it. Sounds like some kind of video game, right, but this technique has been tested in labs and even works. Intellectual Ventures Lab calls this invention as Photonic Fence which detects the mosquito flying at a distance using a low powered laser. This laser doesn’t kill but it identifies whether it’s malaria causing female mosquito or other harmless insect by measuring the size and frequency of the wing-beats of the insect. Female mosquito has lower frequency of wing-beats as compared to their male counterparts and they are larger in size. Once the malaria causing mosquito is identified, another ‘lethal’ laser is targeted at the mosquito finally zapping it either by destroying it’s DNA or by thermal energy. The laser energy and frequency they use is harmless to human  tissue.

Additionally, the company has found applied some very interesting optical and magnetic properties of crystal called hemozoin ,which is also called the malaria pigment, to detect malaria infection. The original discovery about optical properties of hemezoin for detection of Malaria was done in a study  by a group at McGill Univeristy in 2008. When a person is infected with malaria, the parasite enters the red blood cells and feed on hemoglobin but they are unable to digest the heme or the iron containing part of the hemoglobin and sequesters it in form of hemozoin. Presence of hemozoin in blood is indication of malaria infection. It has been found out by researchers at McGill University and confirmed by intellectual ventures that hemozoin interacts with high energy femtosecond laser and it emits distinctive wavelength of light which can be used for non-invasive diagnostics of  malaria. They also found out that the hemozoin is slightly magnetic in nature. These newly found optical and magnetic properties can be used for manipulating the hemozion and ultimately destroy the parasite.

We are attempting to find ways to use this approach to treat malaria as well as to detect it. By tuning the light used in the laser beam to just the right wavelength, we hope to induce the hemozoin to emit optical pulses that actually destroy the parasite’s DNA without harming the surrounding human tissue.Besides being optically active, hemozoin is very slightly magnetic. That opens another avenue for attacking the parasite. We’ve invented ways to magnetically shake or spin hemozoin crystals, rupturing the parasite’s innards enough to kill it. [Intellectual Ventures]

Here are some SEM images of hemozoin nanocrystal:

Also, you can listen to Nathan Myhrvold, co-founder of Intellectual Ventures,  talking about this invention in his recent TED talk.

Source and Photo: Intellectual Ventures Lab

Reference article on hemezoins: doi: 10.1529/biophysj.107.125443

Filed under: Research,Technology

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2 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. Jonathan Belisle  |  July 16, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    ”It has been found out by intellectual ventures that hemozoin interacts with high energy femtosecond laser and it emits distinctive wavelength of light which can be used for non-invasive diagnostics of malaria.”

    This is not true, researchers (including me) from McGill University made that discovery.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2212690/

  • 2. pdiwakar  |  July 16, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Thanks Jonathan for the correction. I have corrected it in the article as well as added the link to the article! Sorry for missing on that one. By the way, the work you and your group has done is very interesting and hopefully will solve this huge problem of malaria in Africa and Asia.

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