Scientists Use Smartphones to Detect A Parasitic Worm in The Blood
Finding parasites in the blood can be difficult – especially in the developing countries around the world. High tech solutions have been avoided because they can be cumbersome in those areas of the world. Not anymore are they so avoided in developing countries.
iPhones and other smartphones are being used to find the Loa loa parasite in Africa. This parasitic worm digs itself into the eye tissue when it’s fully grown – and often co-inhabits with Onchocerca volvulus, which causes river blindness, and Wuchereria Bancroft, which causes limb swelling that is incredibly severe.
A drug called ivermectin is given to treat O. volvulus and W. Bancroft. However, when it is given and the patient is also infected with L. loa, it can have deadly side effects. The side effects include brain swelling among other side effects that can leave a person dead.
The co-parasitism is common in Africa. Doctors have been looking for a good, quick way to figure out if the patient is also infected with L. loa. The usual way involves taking a sample of blood and manually counting the worms under the microscope – which is incredibly time-consuming. The samples can only be taken during a three-hour period, from 11 A.M. to 1 P.M.
With smartphones available in pretty much every nook and cranny of the globe, doctors and scientists are using this to their advantage. They have created an app that can locate the L. loa parasitic worm. It cuts the processing time of a blood sample from days to three minutes, tops. In a three-hour period, that allows 40 people to be diagnosed with or without the worm.
How it works is really cool. The blood sample is put in a tube, and the tube is put into a microscope that is 3D printed to work with the smartphone. The ‘go’ button is pressed, and the sample is analyzed. After three minutes, a worm count is produced. If no L. loa is found, then the ivermectin is safe to give the patient.
This technology is revolutionizing the way that these parasites are being treated. Ivermectin has been put on hold as a mass-produced medicine because of how it reacts with L. loa, and this is one way of trying to get around that problem. While it’s the best thing the scientists and doctors in Africa have, scientists are looking to make a medicine that will work when all three are in the body or it’s a combination of two. However, since it’s what they have at the moment, they have been using it to their advantage.
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As stated earlier, this technology allows 40 people to be diagnosed a day. Compared to only a few a day with microscopes, it’s great. The treatment, however, is given once a year. On this basis, the technology is not enough. Having to be scanned every year will hold back those who haven’t yet been able to be scanned – especially since the samples need to be taken at a certain time of day.
The technology has come very far. However, it is not enough to help as many people as scientists and doctors would like to be able to treat. With forty people diagnosed a day, that is 14,600 people a day – some of them are going to be repeated from the previous year and unless more than one phone is operating in the area, it’s going to be difficult.