Penn State researchers developing microwaves to roast malaria parasites

A team at the Penn State Materials Research Institute, including an Indian-origin scientist, are developing a process to destroy malaria parasites in the blood using low-power microwaves.

Dinesh Agrawal, professor of materials, and Jiping Cheng, senior research associate in the Penn State Materials Research Institute, are working with Penn State College of Medicine researchers and researchers at INDICASAT-AIP, Panama, and at Clarkson University, N.Y., to test the microwave treatment in vitro and in mice models.

“The first phase successfully demonstrated that the way microwaves heat the malaria parasite causes it to die without harming normal blood cells,” said Agrawal, who is director of the Microwave Processing and Engineering Centre and an authority on microwave engineering.

“Microwave interactions are unique. The parasite has extra iron ( Fe3+) that enhances the microwave energy absorption by the parasite. As a result, it is postulated that the parasite gets heated preferentially and is killed without affecting the normal blood cells,” he explained.

The team, which is led by associate professor Jose A. Stoute in the Penn State College of Medicine, received their second phase funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of up to 1 million dollar in July 2011.

The first phase tested the microwave process in a laboratory culture. The second phase will use a larger system and test the process in mouse models.

If those tests are successful, Agrawal says, the next step will be to design and build a system to treat human beings.

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