Doctor Hacks iPhone To Detect Parasite That Affects 2 Billion People

by
Owen Poindexter
Studying hookworm, a parasite that lives in nearly two billion people, Dr. Isaac Boloch came up with an innovative solution that let him do lab detection techniques in Tanzania.

iphone, iphone hack, hookworm, parasite, iphone 4s
Dr. Isaac Bogoch didn't have regular access to a microscope in the field in Tanzania, he did have an iPhone and a clever idea. PHOTO: Isaac Bogoch

Hookworm, a parasitic little critter that lives inside the human lower intestine affects roughly 2 billion people-- almost a third of the entire human population. It causes malnutrition and anemia, and is a major public health issue in the developing world. Isaac Bogoch, a Canadian doctor working in Tanzania, didn't always have his main detection tool: a microscope. What he did have was an iPhone and a little ingenuity. By taping an $8 glass lens to his iPhone's camera, Bogoch upped his magnifying power by a factor of 50. That, plus a simple flashlight was enough to detect hookworm in stool samples with 70% accuracy. Not quite the 87% accuracy one gets in a lab, but an incredible gain in cost-effectiveness and convenience, major factors in public health. According to the National Post,
 

Bogoch used his Apple iPhone 4S for the study but he said in an interview that “any mobile phone with a good camera should work as long as you can zoom in.”

They put stool samples on regular microscope slides, then covered the slides with cellophane, and used double-sided tape to attach them to the iPhone. They illuminated the slides with a “dollar store” flashlight and took a photograph of the magnified image with the phone’s camera.

The entire set-up takes about five minutes, says Bogoch: “All you need is a phone, a ball lens, some tape and a flash light.”

The difference between 87% in the lab and 70% with an iphone-microscope is large enough that Bogoch and his collaborators are working to get their accuracy up to 80% before incorporating his innovative method into regular practice. Still, they have achieved proof-of-concept, and shown again how public health is as much about making good use of widely available items as it is about having the latest technologies and medicines.

And hey, if enough people notice, maybe this could be a new issue for Apple and Samsung to squabble over. Sure, the iPhone has Siri, but how accurately can it detect hookworm in your stool sample? I offer this marketing campaign, relevant to nearly two billion people, to either tech giant, free of charge.

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