Innovative Medical Device Uses Smartphone as Microscope to Study Blood Infection

Smartphones have already shown their efficacy in monitoring patient health and sending out updates about the same to medical devices and healthcare practitioners. But a team of scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, has taken the utility of this ubiquitous device to a whole new level – by using it as a microscope. The microscope can instantaneously assess the presence of parasites in blood. 

The team applied a smartphone-based video microscope in a bid to solve a major problem in Central Africa – blood infections caused by the presence of miniscule parasitic worms. The pilot study, conducted in Cameroon, demonstrated how the innovative device could ascertain the presence of tiny worms in a blood sample. This helped in indentifying patients that were in need of certain medication, and also those who might suffer from the drug’s side effects.

The device, which is currently being termed as the "CellScope Loa", could potentially put an important health program back on track in Central Africa. The program in question is focused on eliminating diseases which can lead to disability and blindness among people in the region. The findings of the team were reported in Science Translational Medicine, a medical journal.

The device essentially functions as a portable and cheap laboratory that doesn’t need to be run by a technician. With this, it has now become evident that smartphones could be entering an entirely new era in healthcare, where they go beyond being peripheral devices that simply track the heartbeat or measure your active time per day.

Speaking on this development, Dr Peter Hotez, from the Baylor College of Medicine, said that this technology could prove to be very important and it is very practical because it cuts dependence on trained healthcare workers and expensive equipment that needs to be deployed in remote areas. While Dr Hotez was not involved in the research, he is an authority in the study of neglected tropical diseases.

This project received funding from the NIH, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a few other groups.


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