Over half a million children died in 2012 from malaria, yet with early diagnosis, this is a treatable disease. The investigators have joined forces with industrial and academic collaborators to create a disposable point-of-care (POC) device that has the potential to save many lives. They will prototype a sensor that is functionalized for detection at a very high sensitivity of one malarial parasite in a droplet of blood. The same device with modifications may be used for detecting other human pathogens, and therefore, potentially reduce health care costs.
The proposal will examine the conductive and capillary wicking properties of a graphene nanoplatelet (GNP) paper microfluidic device as a sensitive, selective, and disposable electrochemical sensor for malaria. The investigators will test the new device using a novel malaria biomarker, the activity of parasitic Topoisomerase I (pfTopI). Thus, the overall objective of this proposal is to prototype a graphene paper malaria sensor that utilizes pfTopI activity to detect an active malaria infection. The hypothesis is that controlling the graphene/cellulose composition and chemistry, coupled with innate amplification due to enzymatic activity, will create an inexpensive, paper-based platform for detection of a unique and selective malaria biomarker. Our goal is to create a sensor that can detect 1 parasite/μl (or less), whereas the current devices on the market have poor sensitivity of ~50 parasites/μl. The research team will realize the improved sensitivity by 1) Creating a GNP paper sensor, 2) Improving the sensitivity through paper chemistry and DNA functionalization and 3) Integrating pfTopI extraction with GNP detection for creating a POC device. During the project period, we will expose graduate and undergraduate students from Michigan Tech and community colleges to the development process of a medical device, the interworking of an international and multidisciplinary team, and the presentation of scientific data at a national and international level. The undergraduate students will be involved with an outreach project to a local, economically disadvantaged high school, where we will demonstrate our GNP paper device using a handheld multi-meter.