The clichéd saying that necessity is the mother of invention holds true, as visiting doctors to Tanzania recently created an effective and cheap method of diagnosing parasites in children.

The device they hobbled together costs around $8 to assemble and  uses commonly found items.

Using little more then an iPhone, strips of double-sided tape, a cheap ball lens and a battery-powered flashlight, a workable model was assembled.


Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a Toronto General Hospital physician and colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute at the University of Basel, and the Pemba Public Health Laboratory in Tanzania tested the device in remote areas of the African country. They published their findings in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

“It’s portable, it’s relatively cheap, it’s very easy to use. And it could be very useful in resource-poor settings that are remote or rural,” explains Dr. Isaac Bogoch.

The article notes that the doctors were inspired to test out the notion of a cheap microscopic attachment to an iPhone after reading about it in a medical journal. The iMedicalApps team has previously reported on various devices that can be attached to the iPhone to enhance its medical applicability–such as what was done by University of California, Davis researchers.

While the detection is good, it is not perfect. The accuracy of the device is largely determined based on how many eggs are visible in a stool sample placed on a slide. The higher the egg density, the easier it is to identify the type of parasite.

“But where there was a low density of eggs, the iPhone results didn’t compare as well to the real microscope, catching only 14 per cent of hookworm cases, for instance. For the roundworms and giant roundworms, the iPhone was successful at rates ranging from 44 per cent for light infections of roundworms to 93 per cent for moderate to heavy infections with giant roundworms. The scientists estimate that if phone microscopes can be improved to the point where they are able to pick up about 80 per cent of infections they would be useful in the field. The initial study put the overall sensitivity at about 70 per cent.”

As the methodology is refined and the accuracy improves, using an iPhone as a microscope may become commonplace in the near future.



Source: Times Colonist