For less than $10 Dr. Isaac Bogoch turned his iPhone into a “field microscope” that can detect intestinal worms.
“It works like a charm,” says Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, who describes the phone’s microscopic powers in a study published Monday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
He and his colleagues, who used the phone to test for worms in children in rural Africa, say “mobile phone microscopes” could become invaluable diagnostic tools in remote areas where labs are few and far between.
Bogoch used his Apple iPhone 4S for the study but he said in an interview that “any mobile phone with a good camera should work as long as you can zoom in.”
To transform his phone into a microscope Bogoch tapes a tiny glass “ball” lens, that cost $8 and is commonly used in the telecommunication industry, over the phone’s camera lens. “It so easy anyone could do it, “ he says. The added lens gives the phone’s camera the power to magnify things more than 50 times.
Bogoch and his colleagues from Africa, the U.S. and Switzerland put the souped-up phone to the test last fall in a rural Tanzania as part of a much bigger study they are conducting to improve diagnosis and treatment of intestinal worms that infect almost two billion people around the world.
They put stool samples on regular microscope slides, then covered the slides with cellophane, and used double-sided tape to attach them to the iPhone. They illuminated the slides with a “dollar store” flashlight and took a photograph of the magnified image with the phone’s camera.
The entire set-up takes about five minutes, says Bogoch: “All you need is a phone, a ball lens, some tape and a flash light.”
They looked at 199 samples from schoolchildren and were able to detect 70 per cent of the worm infections using the phone-cum-microscope, compared to the 87 per cent of infections picked using the regular microscope being used as part of the bigger clinical trial.
The phone microscope is not quite ready for “prime time,” says Bogoch. But he and his colleagues say the 70 per cent detection rate is an encouraging “proof of concept.”
They are fine-tuning the design and hope to bump up the detection rate to 80 per cent, which Bogoch says would be high enough to put phone-microscopes to clinical use as a “simple, inexpensive and mobile way” to conduct disease surveillance.
“The ultimate goal is ensuring that people have appropriate quality of care regardless of where they live and regardless of their socio-economic status,” says Bogoch, who will try the improved model in Africa this spring.
The biggest need for inexpensive, mobile medical technology is in developing countries, but he says phone microscopes might also make for quicker diagnosis in remote areas in Canada, which depend on far-off labs. Along with picking up intestinal worms, Bogoch says phone microscopes can also be used to detect parasites in urine and blood.
One of the other “beauties” of smart phones is you can take a picture and send it to other doctors and experts who can help with the diagnosis, he says.
Dr. David Walker, president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, says in a release issued Monday that he has “ nothing but praise for the ingenuity” of researchers like Bogoch trying to solve pressing health problems in some of the poorest parts of the world.
As for his iPhone, Bogoch says it takes seconds to turn it back into phone. He simply removes the ball lens and tape, and gives it a “wipe with alcohol.”
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