Case Western Reserve Malaria Expert Named One of 100 Leading Global Thinkers for 2014

Case Western Reserve malaria specialist Brian T. Grimberg, PhD, is among Foreign Policy magazine’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2014 being honored this evening in Washington, DC.

Grimberg of the Center for Global Health and Diseases at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine will receive the honor for his groundbreaking research in infectious disease. He developed the scientific concept behind a portable, hand-held malaria detection instrument that rapidly detects the presence of malaria from a drop of blood. 

Foreign Policy is a print and online magazine addressing global politics, economics and issues. The publication selects 100 Leading Global Thinkers each year and honors them at an event that draws White House Cabinet secretaries and the country’s top business leaders and media personalities. Past honorees include President Obama, Pope Francis, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Condoleezza Rice, and Warren Buffett. For this year’s Leading Global Thinkers event, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will present keynote remarks.

“It’s an honor to be named a Leading Global Thinker because it draws attention to the very real opportunity to eradicate malaria worldwide,” said Grimberg, assistant professor of international health. “My goal with our malaria detection device is to identify the disease in patients who don’t know they have it and then treat them as a pathway to eliminate malaria. This goal would have been impossible before the technology we developed here at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.”

The goal of rapid malaria detection is to keep mosquitoes from becoming infected with the malaria parasite, reducing opportunities for it to breed and spread. Only certain breeds of mosquitoes are capable of infecting humans with the malaria parasite, and each spring those hungry newborns arrive and seek out humans. Before long, they bite a malaria-infected human and become carriers of the malaria parasite. So begins the cycle of malaria-infected mosquitoes injecting malaria-causing parasites into the bloodstream of uninfected humans.

By quickly treating malaria-infected humans, Grimberg and others hope to break the cycle of human-to-mosquito transmission. Detection is easy when symptoms are present, but humans can be malaria-infected for months without exhibiting the signs. Current methods to detect the malaria parasite in humans are time-intensive and costly. The average time to examine a microscopic slide of a person’s blood is an hour, and the average cost of the current rapid malaria test is $1.69 a person – and research estimates the potential number of infected people worldwide at 3.5 billion.

In recent years, Grimberg assembled a team of experts to invent the self-administered Magneto-Optical Detection (MOD) device that provides results in 30 seconds and costs 10 cents per test. Among the collaborators he credits are from the Case Western Reserve Department of Physics. Grimberg particularly credited fellow members on the patent team: Robert W. Brown, PhD, Robert J. Deissler, PhD, William Condit, PhD, Richard Bihary and Jason Jones. Also partnering on the project was biomedical engineering professor Andrew Rollins, PhD.

“Our invention is a great example of collaborative science to help solve these intractable problems,” he said. “The team deserves a lot of credit because we figured this out together. This collaborative effort is one of the things that make Case Western Reserve University No. 1 in global health.”

The MOD device works by using magnetic technology to identify the iron substance that malaria parasites release when they digest red blood cells from their recent blood meals. 

“The MOD device will help us get to patient zero with detection and treatment at the beginning of every malaria season,” he said. “What we want to do is go into villages and screen everybody for malaria. For those persons who are infected, we direct them to a local health care facility where they can obtain effective anti-malarial drugs.”

Malaria is a real burden in the developing world. Grimberg calls it a disease of poverty and one that causes more deaths in Africa every day than all the fatalities that Ebola has ever caused.

“With the total collapse of the health care system in West Africa because of Ebola, no one wants to get screened or treated for malaria. People there are afraid they will contract the Ebola virus at a health care facility,” he said. 

Center for Global Health and Diseases Director James W. Kazura, MD, weighed in on the importance of collaboration to make great strides in improving health worldwide.

“Brian's award is another testament to how our center has formed long-standing and fruitful collaborations with our partners in developing countries,” he said. “Our faculty began a working relationship with the Kenya Medical Research Institute in the early 1980's. Brian's grant to develop cost-effective tools to monitor the impact of malaria interventions on the transmission of this infectious disease is one of several of our ongoing research efforts funded by the National Institutes of Health and other agencies related to malaria control and elimination in East Africa.”

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About Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine 
Founded in 1843, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is the largest medical research institution in Ohio and is among the nation’s top medical schools for research funding from the National Institutes of Health. The School of Medicine is recognized throughout the international medical community for outstanding achievements in teaching. The School’s innovative and pioneering Western Reserve2 curriculum interweaves four themes--research and scholarship, clinical mastery, leadership, and civic professionalism--to prepare students for the practice of evidence-based medicine in the rapidly changing health care environment of the 21st century. Nine Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with the School of Medicine.

Annually, the School of Medicine trains more than 800 MD and MD/PhD students and ranks in the top 25 among U.S. research-oriented medical schools as designated by U.S. News & World Report’s“Guide to Graduate Education.”

The School of Medicine’s primary affiliate is University Hospitals Case Medical Center and is additionally affiliated with MetroHealth Medical Center, the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Cleveland Clinic, with which it established the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University in 2002.

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