A team of engineers have developed a smartphone microscope capable of finding parasitic worms that may have hidden in your blood.
The invention, named CellScope, uses the video camera in your smartphone to film a single drop of blood in order to detect and quantify potential parasitic infections.
Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) used a slightly modified Apple iPhone 5S and custom made app to screen for Loa infections in just a few quick seconds by monitoring the “wriggling” motion of microfilariae in the blood (it can take up to two minutes at most). It does not look for worms based on their shapes or molecular markers.
The scientists loaded a blood sample into the side slot of a 3D-printed plastic box connected to the iPhone. The inside of the box only includes common components that help the iPhone process the blood – microcontrollers, LED lights, gears, circuitry and a USB port.
They then opened the app, started it, and it automatically began filming the blood and analyzing the images. After the device finished reading the information, it automatically started translating it and displayed the results on the screen.
The CellScope is a remarkable step forward as it also specifies the number of parasitic worms in the blood and even informs healthcare professionals if a patient is suitable for drug treatment or not.
The authors of the study gave a statement bringing the simplicity and efficiency of the device into focus: “No special preparation of the blood is required, limiting potential error and sample loss, and healthcare workers need minimal training to use the automated device”.
The smartphone microscope was built with an eye towards the future as it could also help doctors and scientist resume mass administration of antiparasitic drugs meant to eradicate parasitic diseases such as onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) in Central Africa.
These diseases have proven to be too dangerous to treat in past, as they endangered the healthcare workers’ health, as well as show potential fatal side effects (fatal brain damage) when treatments are administered to people suffering from high blood levels of Loa microfilariae.
The CellScope can identify these patients and inform healthcare workers not to treat them with the intended blood. Test conducted on 33 people in Cameroon have shown that its results are as accurate as those obtained through “standard methods for measuring microfilariae […] by trained personnel with laboratory equipment”.
It also has the added bonus of being much, much quicker. Infect, NIAID researchers expect that once the technology is available for mass use, a single team of no more than three workers could use CellScope during the four-hour midday window when Loa circulates at its peak to screen up to 200 people.
They are very proud of their invention, with Daniel Fletcher, professor of bioengineering at the UC Berkeley lab responsible for CellScope, declaring that the smartphone microscope will enable professional out in the field to make life-saving decisions based on quick and accurate information.
NIAID researchers were also praised by scientists and engineers who didn’t participate in the development of the CellScope, saying that it’s a highly practical and much needed tool.
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