This New Invention Uses Smartphones to Help Treat Illness Affecting Millions
Berkeley scientists develop a technology that uses smartphones to help treat an infectious illness.
While it has certainly become a generally useful and indelible part of our lives, the smartphone has also been much maligned for contributing to social degradation and mental illness. But instead of causing health issues, could smartphones help cure them? A technology developed at UC Berkeley uses video from a smartphone-connected microscope to detect infection by parasitic worms and help treat river blindness.
The tech, called LaoScope, can look at a drop of blood and automatically detect and even quantify infection from parasitic worms called Onchocerca volvulus. These worms, found mainly in Africa, can cause river blindness, which is a debilitating disease that humans get through bites of infected black flies. Without treatment, infections in the eye can result in blindness.
River blindness, or onchocerciasis, affects at least 25 million people, according to estimates by the World Health Organization. Of these 300,000 are blind and 800,000 have some visual impairment. Another 123 million are at risk for the infection.
Another issue in treating this illness is that the medication ivermectin can be deadly to those who have another parasitic worm in the blood called Loa loa. What the scientists were able to create in their smartphone-linked device is a quick and easy way to test for these parasites in the blood. In fact, the LoaScope has already been used to analyze the blood of villagers in Cameroon, with more than 15,000 patients receiving appropriate treatment due to the technology.
Here’s a view of Loa loa parasites in the blood as captured by the LoaScope and displayed on an iPhone screen:
The study’s co-author and Berkeley bioengineering professor Daniel Fletcher, whose lab invented the technology, said that it demonstrates the potential of using a smartphone in medicine -
“This is not just a step forward for efforts to eliminate river blindness, but it is a demonstration that mobile microscopy — based on a mobile phone — can safely and effectively expand access to healthcare,” said Fletcher. “This work sets the stage for expanding the use of mobile microscopy to improve diagnosis and treatment of other diseases, both in low-resource areas and eventually back in the U.S.”
The technology underlying the LaoScope that turns the camera of a mobile device like phone or tablet into a quality light microscope is called CellScope. Besides detecting infectious and eye diseases, it can have applications in ocean microorganism surveys and education.
You can read the new paper here, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.
- Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
- As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
- If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
- Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
- By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
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- The War in Syria has dropped off the radar, but it's not over (yet)
- This 1-minute video shows how the fronts have moved – and stabilised – over the past 22 months
- Watching this video may leave you both better informed, and slightly queasy: does war need a generic rock soundtrack?
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Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco!
Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.
- To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
- Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
- There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
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