Our march towards the Star Trek tricorder continues. New research using the CellScope system allows the filming of a drop of blood. Then a smartphone app analyzes the sample for movement to detect parasites in a patient.

It sounds like something out of science fiction, but the research is real. Human trials were successful in Cameroon, and the results were published in Science Translational Medicine.

Tropical medicine experts are calling it a fundamental advance in detection and possible treatments.

Two parasitic diseases are being targeted with the new research – river blindness and elephantiasis. Efforts to tackle the diseases have run into walls because the drug treatments are potentially fatal to patients.

Using ivermectin is risky in patients with high concentrations of the Loa loa worm. It can crawl across the surface of the eye, and screening for it is both expensive and time-consuming.

How Does the App Scanner Work?

The researchers, from the UC Berkeley and the National Institute of Health, reworked a smartphone to automate the process.

Researchers using a modified smartphone to sit on top of a box, load a drop of blood into the testing unit. It’s here the phone kicks in and starts to scan for the Loa loa worm


“With one touch of the screen, the device moves the sample, captures video and automatically analyses the images,” said one of the researchers, Prof Daniel Fletcher.

To make the test accessible to people without years of training, the app only scans for movement. It does not attempt to identify the shape of the worm, just the movement. The idea is that it will allow medical personnel in the field to decide quickly on treatment protocols.

cellscope parasite app

With early trials being a success, the plan is to test 40,000 people.

Further Advances in Detecting Diseases?

With the app showing promise, experts are hoping the technology can be used for other diseases. Malaria and TB are already being talked about as potential avenues of research.

In medicine, it isn’t just treating disease. Doctors need to know the correct diagnosis. Then they can target the treatment protocols to the individual. CellScope is the first step in advancing diagnostics in the field.

It’s not the mythical tricorder, but it shows the promise of mobile technology and medicine.


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