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International runner-up Excelscope may be able to detect Malaria using a smartphone

Their ambitious attempt to improve the diagnosis of malaria in developing countries, has secured students from the Netherlands runner-up spot in the international James Dyson Award 2018.

Over 212 million cases of malaria are reported annually, with Sub-Saharan Africa contributing disproportionately to this figure. Due to the lack of medical staff and resources, blood sample analysis often gets delayed in developing countries, leading to errors and ultimately high mortality rates. Seeking to improve the efficiency and accuracy of diagnosis, a group of students from Delft Technical University developed Excelscope, a semi-automated smart Malaria diagnostic device.

In the current standard methods manual microscopy is often used. However, these are time-consuming, expensive and require special expertise. Rapid diagnostic tests are also available, but these images must be sent to a pathologist or lab for diagnosis. In places like Uganda where the nurse to patient ratio is 6:100000, the need for expertise is a real challenge.

Using reused smartphone components Excelscope is a sustainable, portable diagnostic device that could easily and effectively determine the number of malaria parasites present in a blood sample at a low-cost. It’s a novel alternative to high cost device giving it the potential to be accessible, even in the most rural corners of the globe where malaria is prevalent.

The team said:

“The Excelscope concept was born out of a joint effort by our international team of six in the Netherlands, but through collaboration with African universities we’ve been able to base our research on real-life experiences. For us, this is what designing something that solves a problem means; its working together to design technology for a better future. Taking International runner-up spot in the James Dyson Award has encouraged us to take Excelscope further. From here, we’re hoping to attract investment because developing medical devices requires significant trials, which are expensive. The next stages will undoubtedly involve a number of setbacks before we can commercialise our product, but we’re excited at that prospect.”

Sir James Dyson:

“Design something that solves a problem is an intentionally broad brief. It invites talented, young inventors to do more than just identify real problems. It empowers them to use their ingenuity to develop inventive solutions.”

How does it work?

Excelscope uses a smartphone lens to detect malaria parasites in blood samples. The back of the phone has been adjusted to place the blood sample. The self-developed algorithm automatically analyses the blood sample through the lens. The parasites in the blood cells turn purple and are automatically diagnosed.

With this, the Excelscope has developed a solution that is more accessible, accurate and reliable, reducing the workload for medical professionals. Also, the design does not depend on the electricity grid and mobile services. Instead, it includes a rechargeable back-up battery and an SD card slot for physical data collection and transfer.

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