Sydney: An anti-tank Javelin missile detector, commonly used in warfare to detect the enemy, has been found to rapidly identify malaria parasites in blood.

Malaria Mosquito
Malria is caused due to Mosquito bites

The technique is based on Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy which provides information on how molecules vibrate.

"Our test detects malaria at its very early stages, so that doctors can stop the disease in its tracks before it takes hold and kills," said Bayden Wood, associate professor at Monash University in Australia.

Researchers used a special imaging detector known as a Focal Plane Array (FPA) to detect malaria parasite-infected red blood cells.

Originally developed for Javelin anti-tank heat seeking missiles, the FPA gives highly detailed information on a sample area in minutes.

The heat-seeking detector, which is coupled to an infrared imaging microscope, allowed the team to detect the earliest stages of the malaria parasite in a single red blood cell.

The infrared signature from the fatty acids of the parasites enabled the scientists to detect the parasite at an earlier stage, and crucially determine the number of parasites in a blood smear.

"The new test has a number of advantages. It gives an automatic diagnosis within four minutes, does not require a specialist technician and can detect the parasite in a single blood cell," informed professor Leann Tilley from University of Melbourne.

Malaria kills nearly 1.2 million people worldwide every year.

"In many countries only people who display signs of malaria are treated. But some people do not have typical flu-like symptoms associated with malaria. This means a reservoir of parasites persists that can spread very quickly within a community," Tilley noted.

FPA detectors were originally developed for portable Javelin anti-tank missiles in the 1990s.

The FPA detector used in this project was coupled to a synchrotron source located at InfraRed Environmental Imaging (IRENI) facility at the Synchrotron Radiation Center (SRC) in Wisconsin, the study, published in the journal Analyst, concluded.