Using an Apple iPhone 4S, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute were able to construct a low-cost iPhone microscope using nothing more than a ball lens (purchased online for $8) and double-sided tape.
Dr. Issac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and lead author of a new study on the iPhone microscope, said that using only a few dollars and some ingenuity, others could turn their smartphones into valuable medical diagnostic tools for use in geographical areas that lack alternative means of analysis, such as rural Africa.
“I used an Apple iPhone 4S and that’s simply because I just happen to own one, but any smartphone with a decent camera and a zoom-in function should work just fine … The we bought a ball lens … We just got it online. And then we used some double-sided tape to stick the ball lens to the lens of the camera on the iPhone,” Dr. Bogoch said.
Bogoch’s study on the Apple iPhone 4S microscope can be found in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Bogoch and his colleagues were inspired by other medical literature that featured images of other smartphones converted to microscopes, but only used in laboratory settings. The research team wanted to test real world applications using a smartphone microscope, which lead them to testing the iPhone 4S microscope on Pemba Island in Tanzania.
“We were looking at school age children that are unfortunately disproportionately affected by intestinal parasitic infections. And these infections affect over a billion people on the planet,” Bogoch said.
Using the Apple iPhone 4S microscope, or equivalent device, the researchers were able to detect parasitic infections of various degrees, although the best results were found with hosts that had moderate to heavy infections.
“We took slides. We were looking for intestinal parasites. So these are stool samples. The slide had a little bit of cellophane covering the stool sample and we put the slide very close to our ball lens, which was stuck up against the Apple iPhone 4S. And we were able to zoom-in and we could see the parasites that we were looking for pretty easily.”
Bogoch said that smartphone microscopes could dramatically enhance disease detection and control in poor, rural areas like Tanzania.
It’s estimated that intestinal worms affect as many as two billion people around the globe, most of which are in poor areas.
Treatment for most intestinal parasites is often widely available and well tolerated by those infected.
Another great benefit to using a smartphone to run analysis is that if health workers are unsure of image results they can easily send the files to experts anywhere in the world for a diagnosis.
Apple’s iPhone 4S and counterparts have had a plethora of uses since their debut, but diagnosing intestinal parasites is something that most wouldn’t have considered.