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A Doctor Hacks His iPhone To Detect A Parasite That Plagues Billions

Doing research in the field on hookworm, a parasite that affects about 2 billion people, a doctor needed to find a way to look at the anemia-causing bugs without a microscope. There’s not an app for that, but you can still use your phone.

Recently it seems like tech startups that promise to turn the smart phone into a mobile lab are coming out of the woodwork. But it turns out that sometimes it doesn’t take engineers, Silicon Valley funds, or a sexy elevator pitch to get the job done: just a group of compassionate doctors with an eagerness to make due with limited materials.

While researching victims of intestinal worms in Tanzania, Canadian infectious disease specialist Isaac Bogoch didn’t always have access to a microscope to search for signs of hookworms and other parasites in stool samples. So, he taped an $8 glass lens over his iPhone’s camera, and suddenly had 50 times the magnifying power. According to the National Post, Bogoch and his team:

… 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."

The resulting microscope (iMicroscope?) was able to detect parasite eggs in stool samples with nearly 70% accuracy (the normal microscope gets it right 87% of the time), and was able to detect some worms with up to 80% accuracy.

Bogoch and his team will work to up the accuracy to 80% before they make it a regular part of field operations.

"The ultimate goal is ensuring that people have appropriate quality of care regardless of where they live and regardless of their socio-economic status," Bogoch told the National Post.

The worms in question afflict about 2 billion people worldwide, and cause malnutrition and anemia, particularly in children, leading to poor physical and mental development.