Tech Dec 02, 2015 09:48 PM EST

New technology that transforms smartphone into high-powered microscope can diagnose malaria

By Staff Writer

Texas A&M University Biomedical engineers have developed a technology to transform a mobile phone into a mobile polarized microscope with the same level of accuracy as a hi-tech lab equipment.

The technology will enable the mobile phone to diagnose malaria infection in just a few minutes.

The new technology involves an add-on device called Mobile Optical Polarization Imaging Device (MOPID) for smartphone's camera.

According to Reuters, the add-on device will make the phone's camera produce high-resolution images of objects 10 times smaller than the thickness of human hair.

Gerard Cote, a professor of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University who led the device development said that MOPID is basically taking the high standard of a microscope and making it into a portable device.

The device will revolutionize the way to diagnose malaria that currently involves a big bench top microscope that is relatively complicated to use and requires a trained technician.

The MOPID device looks and feels essentially like a phone case. The smartphone camera add-on is equipped with a small cartridge to hold a blood-smear sample, allowing instant diagnosis of malaria. The sample is then imaged by the phone's camera with polarized light gained by MOPID add-on.

The polarized light will detect the presence of hemozoin crystal, the by-product of the malaria parasite as an accurate indicator of malaria infection.The hemozoin crystals appears as tiny bright dots on the camera screen.

A  smartphone's app would take the image and automatically count the number of red blood cells and the number of parasites over different fields of view. It will determine whether a patient has malaria or not.

MOPID works with both iOS and Android devices and requires less microscope experience than the current method. It uses existing mobile phone technology and networks which 75 percent of the world can use.

The scientists plan to perform field test to MOPID in the first half of 2016 in Rwanda.

In a report by All Africa, the number of malaria cases in many parts of the country has increased earlier this year despite remarkable progress made in recent years.

Malaria has been one of the most deadly diseases in Africa.

The US Center for Disease Control estimates there are 198 million cases of malaria cases worldwide in 2013 and 500,000 people died, mostly children in Africa.

The research team will make MOPID  as affordable as possible to make it an ideal technology for developing countries affected by malaria where cost, complexity, and lack of trained technicians can prohibit the use of a polarized microscopy technique to diagnose the disease.

The MOPID add-on is expected to be less than $50 with the disposable blood cartridge priced at less than a dollar.

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