Scientists have hacked together a microscope out of an iPhone, a piece of glass, double-sided tape, and a cheap flashlight that is good enough to detect intestinal worm infections with 70 percent accuracy.
MacGyver, you’re out of a job.
According to a study published today in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, scientists used the hacked-together microscope to examine almost 200 stool samples taken from children in Pemba Island in Tanzania. Each glass slide with the sample was covered in cellophane, taped to the iPhone, and lit from behind with the flashlight. Then the researchers took a picture with the phone’s camera, and examined the image on the iPhone’s screen.
The results were not perfect, but not bad: 70 percent accurate.
“We think cell phone microscopes could soon become a valuable diagnostic tool in poor, remote regions where intestinal worms are a serious health problem, particularly in children,” study co-author Isaac Bogoch said in a statement.
The challenge in remote areas is not so much cost — a conventional light microscope costs about $200, almost certainly less than the iPhone 4S the researchers were using. The challenge is that that light microscope requires consistent access to electricity, and the highest-risk portions of our planet for intestinal worm infection, which afflict some two billion people, are not known for reliable or even accessible power.
Hence, the smartphone solution.
“There’s been a lot of tinkering in the lab with mobile phone microscopes, but this is the first time the technology has been used in the field to diagnose intestinal parasites,”
The health hack needs to get better: Bogoch says it needs to detect 80 percent of infections to be “of clinical use.”
Most readers of VentureBeat would probably tell him that he could likely get that additional 10 percent by upgrading to an iPhone 5, with its improved camera, or one of the newest Android models.
VentureBeat is creating an index of the top online health services for consumers. Take a look at our initial suggestions and complete the survey to help us build a definitive index. We’ll publish the official index in the weeks to come, and for those who fill out they survey, we’ll send you an expanded report free of charge. Speak with the analyst who put this survey together to get more in-depth information, inquire within.