This weekend millions of North American children diligently completed their homework, did their chores and stayed on their best behavior in the hopes that they'd attend Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince in theaters. Meanwhile, half way around the world, thousands of children work for the magical protections of mosquito nets and running water. Their Voldemort is malaria. Between 1-3 million malaria deaths happen every year with the majority of the victims being young children in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, thanks to the work of a Berkeley research team, help may be on its way.
In so many malaria-endemic countries, the lack of health personnel, equipment and accessible hospitals are a major barrier in ensuring timely diagnosis. But Daniel Fletcher and his team at the University of California in Berkeley have modified a Nokia N73 phone in the hopes that it will alleviate resource issues and aid in early detection of malaria.
With the N73 as the kernel, the team added a battery-powered LED lamp and a series of filters. The result is an extremely inexpensive portable microscope with the potential to detect malaria, sickle-cell anemia and tuberculosis from fluid smears.
New Scientist article published this morning, the modified phone or "CellScope" makes it possible for field doctors to test for the disease as well as send their images to labs via a wireless network.Microscopy-based detection of malaria is possible by taking a pinprick from a patient, smearing their blood onto a treated glass slide, and examining it under a microscope. Malaria parasites are detectable when they react to the treatment on the glass (Giemsa stain). According to a
"Cell counting is the main thing we have done," Says Fletcher. "Additional things could include annotating an image to point out a problem or a question to be answered by a doctor at a central hospital."
If cell images are coupled with patient details and locations, the CellScope can help reduce disease-based death rates by guiding grassroots health workers in deploying resources, treating those affected and stopping the spread of disease across townships.
For more mobile phone based health solutions, check out NetSquared's list of projects.