Smartphone-based diagnostic device detects parasitic worms via video

A team of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley teamed up with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and researchers from Cameroon and France to create its CellScope tool, which automatically analyzes the wriggling motion of worms from a video to see whether or not a patient can be treated with an antiparasitic drug ivermectin (IVM).  The scientists tested the device in 33 potentially infected people in Cameroon, and results were comparable to standard microscope testing, The Wall Street Journal reports.  UC Berkeley researchers published their findings in a recent issue of Science Translational Medicine.

“We previously showed that 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 chair and professor of engineering at UC Berkeley whose lab created the device, said in a statement.  “The video CellScope provides accurate, fast results that enable health workers to make potentially life-saving treatment decisions in the field.”

Traditional screening methods for parasitic worms often come with longer processing times, as technicians have to manually count the worms from a blood sample using conventional lab microscopes.  CellScope runs through a smartphone app that wirelessly sends information from a finger-prick of blood to controllers.  Healthcare workers touch a screen to start the app and then an image-processing system analyses the worms from the video, displaying a count on the screen.  The whole procedure takes two minutes or less, providing an advantage over conventional methods and allowing doctors to quickly determine whether a patient is eligible for IVM therapy.

Next up, the researchers plan to test the devices in a study with about 40,000 people in Cameroon.  The project has already attracted the backing of some big-name funders, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

However, UC Berkeley researchers aren’t the only ones developing innovative smartphone diagnostics. Last month, California startup Scanadu raked in $35 million in Series B funding to bring its smartphone tricorder device to market.  And scientists at Florida Atlantic University are developing a biosensing tool that uses a smartphone and paper microchip to screen for diseases such as HIV.  The technologies could help improve infectious disease management in developing countries with limited lab infrastructure.

REFERENCE:  Fierce Medical Devices; 08 MAY 2015; Emily Wasserman

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