Pathogen infections are often diagnosed by visualizing blood samples under a microscope. This means samples need to be drawn and sent to a lab where a pathologist can make observations, but because of poverty, remoteness, or even natural disasters, it is often a challenge to get a diagnosis. Yet, blood imaging for many applications can be a cheap and nearly automated process, as some folks behind the Athelas project have shown.
Athelas is the winner of the YC Hacks competition that brought together hackers and tinkerers to develop new tools and technologies. The blood imager is little more than a 1mm ball lens attached to an iPod’s camera plus software that analyzes the image. The app can take its own microscopy photograph or you can upload one from another source. It then processes the image, and provides a malarial cell count, as well as its confidence that the parasite has infected the host.
From the project info page:
…despite the critical nature of blood analysis to the medical industry – the process has hardly changed from its long, expensive form for 150 years: go to the doctor, get a large sample taken, wait for a couple days for a trained professional to analyze the blood, and then receive your report. Athelas changes all that.
In short – a malaria test that requires no expertise, takes a few seconds, and costs next to nothing. All on a smartphone – holding potential to save thousands of lives.
Furthermore, through predictive cell counting, Athelas can mimic the process conducted in lab-grade environments in rural areas.