iPhones can be used in detecting intestinal worms in Africa

Scientists have invented a novel way of using iPhones as conventional light microscopes that can be used in detecting intestinal worms in remote parts of Africa, with an accuracy level of 70 per cent.

This is according to a publication in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, in which scientists used an iPhone 4S camera and a cheap flashlight to take photos of over 200 stool samples, with the images manually examined by trained specialist to detect the worms.

A three millimetre ball lens was mounted on to the camera of an iPhone 4S with a double-sided tape. A slide containing the stool sample was then placed below the camera with the lens, and illuminated from below by the use of the flashlight powered by an AA battery.

A photo of this was then taken, with images magnified by the digital zoom function of the phone, leading to a 50-60X magnification, strong enough to see the micro-organisms in the sample.

“We think cell phone microscopes could soon become a valuable diagnostic tool in poor, remote
regions where intestinal worms are a serious health problem, particularly in children,” said Isaac Bogoch, a co-author of the study.

The scientists say they preferred to use a simple first-generation ball-lens mobile phone microscope because of ease of creation and use. The device can be easily assembled in less than five minutes at a cost of approximately US$15, making it attractive for use in resource-limited settings.

Critics however say the device is not economical, as a conventional light microscope goes for approximately US$200, making it cheaper than the scientists’ invention. The cost of an iPhone is much higher than that (approx US$499).

But the scientists argue that for the conventional microscope to operate, it requires a constant source of power, not easily accessible in rural areas.

With the iPhone and the cheap flashlight, doctors will be able to treat more patients, and even
transmit the images via mobile to central places where they can be investigated using more powerful devices before a diagnosis is made.

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