Scientists turn an iPhone into a blood parasite detector

Seeing a hematologist is a luxury that few people can afford in the poorest parts of Africa. That's why a team at UC Berkeley has adapted its iPhone microscope project to identify blood parasites in under three minutes. CellScope Loa is, essentially, a 3D-printed box that a smartphone can sit on top of, taking five-second videos of blood samples. The companion app then looks for signs of movement from the microscopic worms that, when left untreated, cause river blindness and elephantiasis.

The drugs necessary to treat these two conditions are relatively common, but there's a problem. If a patient is also suffering with Loa Loa, or African eye worm, then that same medicine can cause severe brain damage or death. Naturally, public health campaigns have stalled as a consequence, since there's such an enormous risk that a treatment program could do more harm than good.

Thankfully, the components required to build the CellScope Loa are pretty easy to procure, including an Arduino board, Bluetooth module and an LED Array. At this point, researchers are going to expand the trial of the hardware to around 40,000 people in Cameroon. If successful, there's a hope that the kit could be used to screen out Loa Loa suffers and help the countless others who are otherwise suffering, and dying.