WASHINGTON — Prick a finger and have the blood checked for parasites �X by smartphone? Scientists are turning those ubiquitous phones into microscopes and other medical tools that could help fight diseases in remote parts of the world.
In the newest work, University of California, Berkeley researchers used a smartphone-run video microscope to target a challenge in parts of Central Africa �X some devastating infections caused by tiny parasitic worms.
A small pilot study in Cameroon showed the device could measure within minutes certain worms wriggling in a finger-prick of blood, rapidly identifying who is a candidate for an important medication �X and who’s at risk for a severe side effect from that drug.
If larger studies pan out, the so-called ��CellScope Loa�� could help revive a program to eliminate diseases that cause blindness and disability in the region, the team reported Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Essentially, the instrument acted as a cheap, portable laboratory �X no lab technician required �X part of a trend in medical uses for smartphones that goes far beyond simple tasks like measuring heartbeats or emailing your doctor photos of a suspicious mole.
��This is a very important technology,�� said Baylor College of Medicine’s Dr. Peter Hotez, a well-known specialist in neglected tropical diseases who wasn’t involved in the new research.
��It’s very practical,�� by eliminating the need for specially trained health workers and pricey equipment in remote villages, he added.
It’s the latest in a string of attempts to harness smartphones as mini-labs. Columbia University scientists recently created a device powered by a smartphone to detect signs of HIV and syphilis in blood, pilot-testing the tool in clinics in Rwanda. At Massachusetts General Hospital, doctors are researching a tool that clips over a smartphone camera to detect cancer in blood or tissue samples. Hotez said still other researchers are using phone cameras to detect intestinal parasites in stool samples.