Your smartphone is amongst the very first thing that you look at when you wake up in the morning and why not? It is your handy device which tells you the weather, helps to browse social network, listen to music, play games, tells you how to navigate around traffic jams, connect with your friends, just to name a few.
Just as their name suggests, smartphones
are incredibly smart, as they can do some pretty unusual things that you've probably never even considered. So how about detecting some wriggling worms in your blood sample to start with? BBC news recently reported that smartphones can now be used to automatically detect wriggling parasites in your blood samples within just about 2 minutes.
Parasitic diseases are major public health problems affecting millions of people in certain parts of Africa; river blindness (onchocerciasis) and lymphatic filariasis
(elephantiasis) are two of such diseases. Current method of detection involves testing the blood smear by manually counting the worms under a typical microscope by certified lab technicians.
Although both these diseases could be cured with the antiparasitic drug ivermectin, if this drug is administered to a patient who also has a harmful parasite called Loa loa (African eye worm) inside their body, then it could potentially cause lethal side effects such as severe brain damage.
Thus, it becomes pertinent for patients to first get tested for Loa loa levels, before commencing treatment with ivermectin; all this has so far hampered large-scale ivermectin treatment programs.
However according to latest research, a standard iPhone could quickly measure Loa loa levels in blood samples after being connected to a specially designed lens module. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Science Translational Medicine
Researchers used a modified smartphone to automate the process. They used a mobile phone attachment, which actually repurposes the device as a clinical-grade microscope known as CellScope Loa. After sliding a smartphone into the base and placing a single drop of blood on the base, they found that this device could conduct the blood analysis
in just about two minutes. The device examines the blood sample using time-lapse photography and then uses this unique movement to count the worms. A video could also be created which searches for the wriggling worms in action and displays the total count on screen.
The team of researchers carried out a pilot study with CellScope Loa in Cameroon, where river blindness and lymphatic filariasis are quite rampant. The researchers also revealed that CellScope Loa was able to detect the parasitic worms with great accuracy, which was comparable to conventional methods of testing.
Lead author Professor Daniel Fletcher of UC Berkeley, who pioneered the CellScope commented, "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. The video CellScope provides accurate, fast results that enable health workers to make potentially life-saving treatment decisions in the field".
The device CellScope Loa has the ability to move the sample, capture video and automatically analyze the images just with one touch of the screen, thus making it an easy and convenient method to scan for these worms without actually needing to lug the samples back to the lab.
The device can be easily used with minimal training, whereas the conventional screening methods required a skilled technician to manually analyze the blood samples.
Prof Simon Brooker from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said that this breakthrough discovery was one of the fundamental advances in the area of tropical diseases, which had been neglected for a very long time.
However, since the pilot study was conducted in just about 33 people, researchers feel that a large-scale study should be done to confirm the accuracy of the technique in the near future.