New Malaria Detection Tool runs on Smart Phone

Dennis Faas's picture

For years, volunteer doctors and missionaries have worked to test and treat malaria cases in developing countries. The infectious disease continues to run rampant throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and parts of the Americas.

Now, a doctoral student at the University of California is building an efficient testing and treatment system that will feature Windows Phone 7.

In parts of Africa, where 90 per cent of malaria death occurs, health workers test patients with a diagnostic assessment tool that works in a similar manner to that of a home pregnancy test (a blood sample on a small plastic disk is enough for an accurate diagnosis in about 30 minutes).

Current malaria testing techniques have about a 60 per cent false positive rate. (Source:

World's First "Computer-Based Malaria Test"

But Wilson To, the man behind what is being referred to as the "computer-based malaria test," believes his creation is a drastic improvement over existing examination procedures.

Called Lifelens, the diagnostic tool is essentially a smartphone that runs Windows Phone 7 software.

Mounted over the smartphone camera is a micro lens that is able to capture high-resolution images of the cells within a drop of blood. The software then analyzes the images and the doctor has a quick and clear understanding as to whether or not traces of malaria have been found in the sample.

High Upfront Cost Could Hinder Popularity

There are some concerns with the new diagnostic tool, however, with price playing a major factor in its ability to catch on in impoverished countries. Since it relies on smartphone technology, Lifelens is expected to have a high upfront cost (estimated in the hundreds, each). This is in comparison to the current disposable tests that cost as little as 50 cents.

Still, many argue that Lifelens will actually prove to be more cost-effective than disposable tests over time, since the technology can be reused over and over again, plus it can provide a diagnosis in a matter of seconds.

There is another benefit to using a smartphone for malaria detection as well: results can be transmitted to other health workers (domestically or internationally) with the click of a button, helping these professionals track infection cases throughout the area much more efficiently. (Source:

Wilson To plans to eventually upgrade the software to be able to diagnose any blood-borne disorder, including specific parasites and other vascular diseases. If Lifelens could be modified beyond this to one day diagnose diseases in developed countries, To believes that venture capitalists would soon turn his project from a "charity job" to a "real business".

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