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Smartphones Becoming Tools for Diagnosing Malaria

  • George Putic

Doctors fighting malaria - one of the deadliest diseases on the planet - may soon have a new affordable weapon in their smart phones. Researchers have found a way to use the phone’s camera to detect the microorganism in the patient's blood that causes the disease.

According to the World Health Organization, almost 600,000 people died of malaria in 2013, making this mosquito-borne disease one of the deadliest in the world.

The saddest aspect of this calamity is that it affects mostly young children.

Early detection of the infection is important for successful treatment. But since the first symptoms resemble ordinary flu, a microbiologist must look at a drop of a patient’s blood under a microscope for a proper diagnosis.

Scientists in Britain have now developed a smart phone attachment called Xrapid, that turns the phone into a 200-power microscope, while the attached app - based on facial recognition software - quickly detects the parasitic protozoa in the blood smear.

Jean Viry-Babel is the CEO of IanXen, the company that developed the app. He says it is cheap and works on the spot.

“So we take a high-definition picture of a sample of blood. We separate the red blood cells from the rest - the white blood cells, the platelets - and we start looking at each of the red blood cells individually," said Viry-Babel.

Viry-Babel says the app is affordable, easy to use and provides reliability of up to 98 percent. The only additional equipment required is an ordinary glass lab slide - called a "slate."

“There's only one button, which is called "Diagnose". So you put it on the slate and you put it on the dried blood, and you press diagnose and it tells you yes or no," he said.

Researchers say the field-testing of the device will begin in January and February in Tanzania, Benin and Indonesia - while commercial use is scheduled to start by the end of March.

They also plan to expand the versatility of the new device - teaching it to recognize other diseases, such as tuberculosis and Lyme Disease.

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