Group of students aim to improve malaria diagnosis using old smartphones

Their ambitious attempt to improve the diagnosis of malaria in developing countries, has clinched them the runner-up spot in the international James Dyson Award 2018

Over 212 million cases of malaria are reported annually, with the majority of incidences occuring in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, a lack of medical resources means blood sample analysis is often delayed, leading to errors and ultimately high mortality rates. Seeking to improve the efficiency and accuracy of diagnosis, a group of students from Delft University of Technology are developing Excelscope, a semi-automated malaria diagnostic device.

Standard manual methods use microscopy, which is time-consuming, expensive and requires special expertise. In places like Uganda where the nurse to patient ratio is 6:100000, it isn’t a viable substitute. Although rapid diagnostic tests offer an alternative, the rate of false positives results has become a great concern in recent times.

Using off the shelf smartphone components, Excelscope is a sustainable, portable diagnostic device that may be able to automatically detect malaria parasites in blood samples. Being a novel, low cost device it doesn’t require expert input, giving it the potential to be accessible, even in the most rural corners of the globe.

Team member, Francesco De Fazio said:

Through collaboration with African and Dutch universities, Excelscope is based on real-life experiences; for us this is what designing something that solves a problem is all about. Thanks to winning the International Runner-up title in the James Dyson Award we’re encouraged to take Excelscope principle further not only for malaria but also for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). From here, we’re hoping to attract relevant investors to enable further field tests, which are cost-intensive. The next stages will be challenging, but we’re super excited at that prospect. ”

Sir James Dyson said:

Excelscope is the epitome of sustainable design. It takes widely available materials, and turns them into a potentially life saving device. Such progressive thinking is exactly what I’m looking for. With five projects from Benelux featuring on the international shortlist this year, it shows real promise for invention in the region.”

How does it work?

Excelscope adapts locally available smartphones to support the diagnosis of malaria. Blood samples are held in the back of the phone by an especially designed 3D printed platform and when combined with a specially adapted lens it turns the back of the phone into, a microscope.

Excelscope makes the transition from manual microscopy, to automated microscopy. By staining the blood sample, the Malaria parasites turn into deep purple spots, which indicates the contamination. Using an algorithm that the students programmed, software will then automatically determine whether the number of parasites in the sample exceed the World Health Organisation’s threshold, helping to diagnose the patient.

Excelscope is low-cost and cuts out the need for analysis in labs, meaning it could limit errors, and increase the reliability of malaria diagnoses. Using a rechargeable battery and an SD card slot for physical data collection and transfer, it is also durable and sustainable.

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