21 October 2009

Developing a portable screening device for malaria and using mobile phones to diagnose pneumonia are two UQ research projects which today received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The projects are among 76 Grand Challenges Explorations grants awarded worldwide, each worth $US100,000.

A team led by Dr Viktor Vegh, from UQ's Centre for Advanced Imaging, aims to produce a low-cost alternative for malaria screening in the developing world.

Rather than test for malaria itself, the new device would screen for hemozoin - a waste product of malarial parasites found in the blood of those with the disease.

Dr Vegh said the device would allow testing in the field and provide an instant result, unlike existing detection methods.

"If you want to test for malaria in Africa, for example, you go out to the site, take blood tests and then test the samples under lab conditions," Dr Vegh said.

"With the new device you can get the result at the screening site."

Combining nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and magnetic separation of blood fractions, Dr Vegh said the method assayed blood hemozoin concentration in magnetic and non-magnetic fractions of malarial blood.

The research team includes Dr Greg Pierens and Dr Deming Wang from the Centre for Magnetic Resonance, and Professor David Reutens from the Centre for Advanced Imaging.

UQ's other successful project will investigate whether low-cost electrical devices - such as mobile phones and mp3 players - could be used to diagnose pneumonia and sleep-disturbed breathing diseases.

The devices would record cough and sleeping sounds, offering a low-cost diagnostic method that does not involve direct contact with the patient.

Led by Dr Udantha Abeyratne from the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, the team will analyse recordings using new algorithms in human speech analysis to identify sounds that characterise the presence of pneumonia.

The team includes Dr Craig Hukins from the Princess Alexandra Hospital and Professor Neil Bergmann from UQ's School of ITEE.

Both UQ teams have been awarded a Phase I grant, which funds their research for 12 months.

A successful Phase I application entitles the researchers to apply for a Phase II grant, which is worth at least $US1 million.

Media: Dr Vegh (07 3346 6344, viktor.vegh@cmr.uq.edu.au), Dr Abeyratne (07 3346 9063, udantha@itee.uq.edu.au) or Penny Robinson at UQ Communications (07 3365 9723, penny.robinson@uq.edu.au)