WASHINGTON - Scientists used an iPhone and a camera lens to diagnose intestinal worms in rural Tanzania, a breakthrough that could help doctors treat patients infected with the parasites.
Research published by the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene showed that it is possible to fashion a low-cost field microscope using an iPhone, double-sided tape, a flashlight, ordinary laboratory slides and an $8 camera lens.
The researchers used their cobbled-together microscope to successfully determine the presence of eggs from hookworm and other parasites in the stool of infected children.
"There's been a lot of tinkering in the lab with mobile phone microscopes, but this is the first time the technology has been used in the field to diagnose intestinal parasites," said Isaac Bogoch, a physician specialising in infectious diseases at Toronto General Hospital and the lead author of the study.
Intestinal worms infect two billion people around the world, mainly children, sometimes causing malnutrition. The malady can be difficult to diagnose, in part because of the high cost of a conventional microscope, which is priced at around $200.
Scientists used the cell phone microscopes to evaluate some 200 stool samples from rural children infected with intestinal worms, and compared the results against findings obtained using a conventional microscope.
They found overall that the iPhone microscope was able to detect the presence of eggs deposited by worms in about 70 per cent of the infected samples.
Although not as sensitive as the conventional device, the iPhone microscope can be made much more sensitive with refinements, Bogoch said.
"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," he said.
The researchers also pointed out that almost all medical staff already possess a cell phone, so the cost for a microscope cobbled together using the iPhone is deemed negligible compared to the cost for a conventional one.
Intestinal worms such as hookworms and roundworms, also known as soil-transmitted helminths, are particularly problematic in young children, hindering their physical and mental development by causing chronic anaemia and malnutrition.
If quickly diagnosed, however, the negative health impact of the parasites can be greatly reduced.