Project Details

Disease Diagnostic Group

Early malaria diagnosis with magnets and lasers

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @WEareDDG

  • Health
  • Physical Computing

Although malaria is 100% treatable, between 300 and 600 million people suffer from the disease each year. The World Health Organization estimates that 438,000 people died from malaria in 2015, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Many attempts have been made to diagnose malaria, but identifying it quickly and efficiently has always proven tricky. Microscope tests require expensive lab equipment and infrastructure, while diagnostic tests can’t detect infection in the early stages of the illness. 

John Lewandowski, a PhD student at MIT, approached the problem differently. Knowing that malaria parasites leave behind an iron-containing pigment called Hemozoin, he wondered whether a magnetic test could diagnose early-stage malaria. 

Establishing the Disease Diagnostic Group (DDG), Lewandowski and his team developed a Rapid Assessment of Malaria (RAM) device,  using magnets and a laser. The magnet creates clear patterns in the sample formed by Hemozoin, and the laser shines a light through the sample, which measures the extent to which a person is infected. 

So far the team has piloted the device in Peru, Papua New Guinea and India. Several hundred tests were completed in each location, achieving results of 97%, 93% and 94% accuracy respectively, when compared to industry standard. The device costs about $250 to make and is reusable and portable. No training is required to use it, and at only $0.25 per test, Lewandowski says that DDG could save organisations $100,000 over the lifetime of one device.

Lewandowski now plans to expand DDG’s operations with a field study in Nigeria that will cover 5,000 people. He is also looking towards other diseases, like Schistosomiasis and Chagas – intestinal diseases caused by parasitic worms, which affect nearly 350 million people in the developing world each year. Find out more at

Image courtesy of Disease Diagnostic Group

Last updated: 13th of September, 2016

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