Smartphones aren’t simply an amazing gadget because in Africa, they can be used to make a lifesaving diagnosis.
While some of are busy taking selfies and posting it on social media, scientists, on the other hand are working hard on finding ways to turn these devices into portable HIV testing kits, Parkinson’s disease monitors and heart attack warning systems. In the future, they could even help sniff out early signs of life-threatening diseases on your breath. Now, scientists have developed another amazing benefit to your smart gadget – diagnosing infection with parasitic worms.
In Africa, the spread of parasitic worms known as Loa loa is seriously hindering the efforts of health care workers to cure particular, rampant diseases. Though there are drugs available to treat both river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, if they are administered to a patient who also happens to be infected with Loa loa – the consequences can be lethal. This will complicate further by the inherent difficulties in screening for the worms, but a newly developed mobile phone microscope needing only a drop of blood to automatically detect the parasite promises to make things a whole lot simpler.
For years, a team of researchers at the University of California Berkeley has been refining the Cellscope, a mobile phone attachment that converts the device into a clinical-grade microscope. The team even recently branched out and launched a commercial product called Oto Home, a cell phone attachment that enables parents to perform ear exams on their children at home.
According to Gizmag, the group’s latest offering is dubbed CellScope Loa. It comprises a 3D-printed plastic base fitted out with LED lights, microcontrollers, gears and a USB port. Sliding a smartphone into the base and loading it with a pinprick of blood (which a health worker collects), users can conduct an analysis of the sample in around two minutes.
Over Bluetooth, the purpose-built app communicates with the base, running the sample in front of the phone’s camera and creating a video. An algorithm then processes the footage, searching for the wriggling worms in action and displaying the total count on screen.
The phone does pretty much everything. You press one button, ‘GO‘, and the phone controls the movement of the sample, controls taking of a video and controls analysis and reporting of the results,” says, bioengineer Daniel Fletcher.
However, producing a result in every 2 minutes, will only translates to 40 results per day per phone. Since the tests can be run only during a two-hour period. That’s much faster than the conventional method, but the numbers are still daunting.
In addition to, these smartphones seems useful on a smaller scale. According to, says Dr. Gary Weil, a parasitic disease specialist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis,
I don’t see how it could be scaled up to the scale of tens in millions of people, who currently live in areas where both the Loa loa worm and the river blindness parasite live. And it wouldn’t just be a one-time test since the treatment for river blindness is a once-a-year treatment, every year they would have to be tested.”
Therefore, Weil concluded that the real solution of this fatal outbreak is to find a drug that can safely kill both parasites at the same time. Researchers are working on that right now.
via Science Mag and Gizmag