In what’s being described as a potentially revolutionary breakthrough in the fight against devastating parasitic infection, an iPhone has been successfully modified into a fast, accurate and easy-to-use diagnostic tool. Created by a research team from the University of California, Berkeley in conjunction with researchers from the US National Institutes of Health, the CellScope system is the world’s first to identify signs of blood-borne parasites by monitoring their movement.
Initial trials have proved highly successful and the system will now be used to test a further 40,000 people Cameroon. Heralded by experts as one of the most significant strides forward in tropical disease research, testing and diagnosis in recent history, the CellScope system could be used to replace existing test methods which are complicated and require extensive laboratory involvement.
The CellScope system itself is effectively an iPhone paired with a 3D printed box, which together are used to shoot short videos of patient blood samples. A specially designed app then takes over to study the clip carefully for signs of movement attributed to the parasite worms that can trigger river blindness and elephantiasis.
“We previously showed that mobile phones can be used for microscopy, but this is the first device that combines the imaging technology with hardware and software automation to create a complete diagnostic solution,” commented Daniel Fletcher, professor of bioengineering at UC Berkeley.
“The video CellScope provides accurate, fast results that enable health workers to make potentially life-saving treatment decisions in the field,”
“With one touch of the screen, the device moves the sample, captures video and automatically analyses the images.”
Whereas prior diagnosis techniques focused on the parasitic worm’s shape, CellScope track microscopic movements.
“I’m excited, it offers a new higher-tech approach to dealing with very low-tech problems,” Mr. Fletcher told the BBC.
“There are drugs to treat many neglected tropical diseases, these are problems that should be solved, but there is not the technology to identify people who who need the right drugs.”
Going forward, the same system could eventually be used to identify the presence of malaria, TB and many other parasitic infections.
“I think it’s one of the most fundamental advances in neglected tropical diseases in a long time,” added Professor Simon Brooker on behalf of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
“In the 21st Century we are using 20th Century technology to diagnose these infections, this brings us into the modern world,”
“It really is exciting; when you see it you just go ‘wow’; hopefully it will transform efforts to eliminate diseases.”