As cases of drug-resistant malaria are increasing around the world, researchers at the University of Calgary believe they have created an effective tool to help fight the spread of the deadly mosquito-borne disease: a quick, portable and relatively inexpensive field test that can diagnose malaria even in its earliest stages.

“We can detect (malaria) using big machines in a laboratory, but that’s very expensive,” James Cheaveau, a researcher and master’s student in microbiology and infectious diseases, told CTV News. “But this test, you can do it in a portable setting and it’s also much more accurate than the current test.”

Early studies have shown that the new blood test, which was developed by researchers at the University of Calgary’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases, is potentially 1,000 times more sensitive than traditional malaria lab tests. It’s also battery-operated, fits into a small case and promises to give health workers in the field results within an hour of it being administered.

“What we’re trying to do is provide a technology that can be done at the clinic easily without electricity,” University of Calgary clinician-scientist Dr. Dylan Pillai, who is leading the research team, added.

The researchers say the test can even detect infections in people who don’t show symptoms yet but are still spreading the disease. They also aim to make a single test cost less than five dollars.

“It’s extremely important in the resource-poor setting,” Cheaveau explained. “People who are having the test, they might have to borrow money to get to the clinic to get tested, so it's just not feasible for them to go away and come back.”

The team will now spend the month of June testing pregnant mothers in Ethiopia.

“Right now, we’re in the research phase -- this is a prototype,” Pillai said. “The next step is to show that this test improves outcomes.”

With files from CTV’s medical affairs specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip