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May 8, 2003

School of Public Health Researchers Win Invention of the Year Award

Nirbhay Kumar, PhD, David Sullivan, MD, faculty with the Malaria Research Institute and the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Darin Kongkasuriyachai, a student in MMI, and Peter Scholl, PhD, senior research associate in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, received the 2002 Invention of the Year Award from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. They shared the award with Plamen Demirev and Andrew Feldman of APL’s Research and Technology Development Center for developing an in vitro method of detecting very low levels of the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium in blood.

The new malaria detection method takes advantage of the unique action of malaria parasites once they infect a red blood cell. As the parasites multiply, they break down human hemoglobin and liberate heme molecules, which form crystals within the cell. When irradiated by an ultraviolet laser, these crystals produce a characteristic signal that is detected by a time-of-flight mass spectrometer. Increases in the heme signal are directly proportional to levels of parasite infection.

The technique unambiguously detects, within minutes, as few as 10 parasites per microliter of blood, using a 50-microliter sample. Current methods take an hour, require a sample 20 times larger, and can detect infection only to a level of approximately 100 parasites per microliter.

An estimated 400 to 600 million people contract malaria worldwide each year resulting in 2.7 million deaths. Malaria researchers say that with continuous, affordable surveillance to promptly diagnose new cases, it may be possible to administer immediate, aggressive treatment and eventually eliminate the disease.

An independent, outside review panel selected the winners from 123 APL inventions – representing the work of 204 inventors – based on their potential benefit to society, improvement over existing technology, and commercial potential.

More Invention of the Year Award Winners

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham at 410-955-6878 or Photographs of Nirbhay Kumar are available upon request.
Public Affairs Media Contact for the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab: Ben Walker at 240-228-6792 or