Typically, tests for diseases must be done one disease at a time, and can take days to be processed through a lab. A new device developed in an EU project, however, can test for several diseases at the same time and provide results within an hour. The LabDisk is designed for use in Africa.

The LabDisk was developed through the DiscoGnosis project (Disc-shaped Point-of-Care platform for infectious disease diagnosis), which was set up in 2012 in the recognition that existing means of infectious disease testing in Africa focused on individual diseases and could not reliably discriminate between them. Its aim was to develop a means of detecting malaria and other diseases quickly and non-invasively.

The device itself is likened to a CD player. A sample of the patient's blood is taken and placed onto a disc. The disc is then inserted into an accompanying machine for processing.

The disease pathogens are identified from their DNA/RNA, and the system can identify parasites such as malaria, bacteria that cause diseases such as typhoid or pneumonia, or viruses such as dengue. The LabDisk can be set up to detect different diseases as required, such as Ebola, by changing its bio-components.

"It is a very simple and cheap system that can be used in regions with low medical infrastructure," says the project coordinator Dr. Konstantinos Mitsakakis, of the University of Freiburg. "Results can be obtained from a finger prick of blood in just one hour, whereas lab culture currently takes up to three days."

The LabDisk will now be tested in the field in Dakar, Senegal, and Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo, before being commercialized. The project will come to an end in October this year.