Smartphone video 'microscope' helps detect blood-based worm parasites

A smartphone boasting a video microscope and diagnostic app for scanning blood to detect parasitic worms in emerging countries is proving to be a viable approach for treatment in regions where traditional laboratory analysis isn't feasible or cost-effective.

The CellScope Loa is being tapped for detecting parasitic worms that cause blood diseases, which impact millions and result in blindness or death. The innovation is the focus of a research report published in Science.

"We previously showed 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," Daniel Fletcher, an associate chairman and professor of bioengineering at UC Berkeley, said in an announcement. Fletcher's lab pioneered the CellScope in collaboration with French researchers and Thomas Nutman, M.D., of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

A pilot study in Cameroon, where clinicians have been battling parasitic worm diseases such as river blindness, proves the device to be as accurate as traditional screening approaches, according to the announcement. The CellScope relies on motion, rather than fluorescent staining or molecular markets, for worm count and detection.

The standard screening method involves manually counting the worms in a blood smear using conventional laboratory microscopes, which is often impractical in remote field settings.

The CellScope is just the latest example of how today's smartphone can help with population health. An iPhone-ready urinalysis tool, called Scout, can detect temperature, blood pressure and other biomedical data, Columbia University engineers have built a smartphone dongle to serve as a mobile blood test lab for viruses that cause AIDS and the bacteria that leads to syphilis and Kyoto University researchers developed a smartphone-based sensor system to help epilepsy patients detect seizures.

Control of the CellScope Loa is automated through an app devised by the researchers, and the device communicates via Bluetooth to controllers to process and analyze blood samples, the report says. An algorithm analyzes the worms' "wriggling" motion captured by the phone's video.

The researchers are now expanding the study of CellScope Loa to about 40,000 residents in Cameroon.

For more information:
- here's the Science research abstract
- read the UC Berkeley announcement

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