Computer-assisted Microscopy System for the Detection of Malaria Pathogens in Blood Smears


SCube® – The Modular Scanning Solution
© Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs
SCube® – The Modular Scanning Solution

Malaria is an infectious disease with a high incidence in tropical and subtropical regions. According to WHO, some 210 million people were affected worldwide in 2012, with about 630,000 deaths recorded that year. The disease is caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium which can be detected in blood smears by microscopic examination.

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SCube® Overall Scan Thick Blood Smear
© Fraunhofer IIS
SCube® Overall Scan Thick Blood Smear

Particularly, in cases where the Plasmodium count is still very low or the presence of other fever-inducing pathogens causes negative test results, this microscopic examination is very time consuming and requires a high degree of diagnostic expertise. As part of this project, a system is being developed that can automatically record and evaluate blood smears, using computer-assisted methods to detect malaria pathogens in thick blood smears.

The system is designed to support routine diagnostic processes as well as for use in clinical vaccine trials. Digitizing blood samples also offers further advantages and possible fields of application. A digitized blood smear is a virtual 3D slide of the view seen under the microscope. Users can interactively navigate the virtual slide on their computers and use it to mark the pathogens that have been detected, for instance, or to examine them more closely.

This method makes the diagnostic process more transparent and allows results to be permanently archived, thereby playing an important part in laboratory quality assurance. In addition, the virtual slides can also be used for teaching purposes in education and training courses.

Funded by the Fraunhofer-Zukunftsstiftung (Fraunhofer Future Foundation), this endeavor is embedded in a multidisciplinary overall project led by Fraunhofer Institute IME: the Fraunhofer Malaria Project. This initiative is making a valuable contribution to the global fight against malaria and pools complementary expertise from the fields of life sciences, engineering and medical technology.

The project´s holistic approach is laying the groundwork for future clinical studies involving human subjects. Besides developing a computer-assisted malaria diagnostic system, project aims also include designing new types of malaria vaccines, GMP-compliant procedures and plant-based production systems.

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