Tipping the Scales in the Fight against Malaria


Fast diagnosis is a key advantage in the battle against malaria. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria in 2015. The tropical disease claimed 429,000 human lives that year – two-thirds of them children under the age of five. Conventional diagnosis is time-consuming, complicated, and expensive. But now two Siemens Healthineers employees have invented a method for quickly detecting the life-threatening disease. The method uses the Siemens ADVIA® 2120i hematology system to run automated malaria tests as part of a full blood panel. The major advantage is that it achieves a high throughput at a lower cost than other procedures, such as microscopic examination. This led the European Patent Office to select Dutch product manager Jan van den Boogaart and Austrian researcher Professor Oliver Hayden as winners for the 2017 European Inventor Award.

Malaria affects various parameters measured as part of a complete blood count (CBC) test. For example, it lowers the number of blood platelets. However, many of the signs can also be indicative of other diseases, so the challenge was to find values that were linked to malaria only.

Executive Summary

Hematology product manager Jan van den Boogaart and cell diagnostics researcher
Professor Oliver Hayden are winners of the 2017 European Inventor Award. They were chosen for their work on developing a new method that can detect malaria from a standard blood test. The invention is an automated, computer-aided test that relies on an ingenious principle: Instead of detecting the presence of actual malaria pathogens in blood samples, the test identifies the destructive effects of the malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite. After studying the blood profiles of malaria patients, van den Boogaart and Hayden identified 30 parameters that change as a result of the disease. They then wrote an algorithm to teach this "data fingerprint" to the Siemens ADVIA® 2120i hematology system. Over 3,000 of these systems are already installed in hospitals worldwide. The ADVIA® 2120i can process 120 blood samples per hour and provide precise readings for 500 parameters. It uses the data fingerprint to detect malaria with 97% accuracy, even if only low levels of disease pathogens are present in the blood.

Affordable technology to improve health conditions for billions of people
Van den Boogaart compared blood samples from non-infected blood specimens with malaria-infected specimens from South Africa. He contacted Professor Oliver Hayden, head of In Vitro Diagnostics & Bioscience for Germany at Siemens Healthineers. “Jan and I are driven by the idea of developing affordable technologies that can influence the improvement of health conditions for billions of people. Infection diagnostics from blood panels prepared by automation has great potential for routine clinical use,” Hayden says. Together, the two researchers identified a combination of parameters that determine whether or not a patient has malaria.
They then used these to develop the method for the ADVIA® 2120i hematology system. Rather than looking for the parasites that cause malaria, the automated test looks for the changes that the disease causes in the blood platelets and immune cells. “The infection can’t be detected directly in an automated blood panel. But we found a combination of different malaria-induced changes in the blood cells – a kind of fingerprint of the attempt to defend against the parasite,” Hayden says. The changes allowed the researchers to develop a method that can detect malaria quickly and with unprecedented accuracy.

The European Inventor Award honors the creative achievements of inventors. Three finalists have been chosen for the Industry category, among them van den Boogaart and Hayden. Fortunately, at the award ceremony in Venice on 15 June, the two Healthineers received the coveted award.

The winners of the European Inventor Award 2017
Jan van den Boogaart studied at H.B.O. Eindhoven and earned his bachelor's degree in microbiology in 1980. He earned a second bachelor's degree – in clinical chemistry – from H.B.O. Eindhoven a year later. He began his career in the hospital laboratory at H.B.O. Eindhoven before joining Bayer as a field technician in 1991. His unit at Bayer later became part of Siemens Healthineers, and today van den Boogaart is the DX product manager at Siemens Healthineers in The Hague. He is working on perfecting automated methods for detecting acute promyelocytic leukemia and sickle cell anemia in blood samples using the ADVIA® 2120i system. He is listed as inventor on three different patents filed worldwide.

Oliver Hayden earned his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Vienna in 1999, and went on to work as a postdoc researcher in nanotechnology at Harvard University. He was awarded an MBA from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg in 2011. Hayden was head of In Vitro Diagnostics & Bioscience for Germany at Siemens Healthineers in Erlangen, and a principal investigator for next-generation hematology analyzer. Most recently, he was appointed Heinz-Nixdorf-Chair of Biomedical Electronics at the Technical University of Munich. Hayden has written over 80 articles and is listed as inventor or co-inventor on roughly 80 patent families. His research has earned him the 2016 AMA Innovation Award and the Siemens NTF Award for Medical Imaging Patents. Hayden also won the EUREKA Lillehammer Award in 2006, the Young Investigator Award from the Society of Austrian Chemists in 2002, and the Best of Biotech Award in 2000. 

About Malaria

When a mosquito carrying malaria parasites bites someone, the parasites get into the bloodstream and travel to the liver. Once there, they multiply but are initially inactive and can sometimes become dormant. With certain kinds of malaria, it can take years for the parasites to become active. Once they enter the circulatory system, they attack red blood cells and use them to hide from the immune system so they can multiply further. The infected red blood cells eventually burst, releasing the parasites and allowing them to infect more blood cells. This process robs the body of oxygen and causes a recurrent high fever and chills. Developing a natural resistance that alleviates the symptoms takes decades. A fast diagnostic method could save thousands of lives.

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The statements by Siemens’ customers described herein are based on results that were achieved in the customer's unique setting. Since there is no "typical" hospital and many variables exist (e.g., hospital size, case mix, level of IT adoption) there can be no guarantee that other customers will achieve the same results.