Treating River Blindness with Cellphone-Based Microscope

A demonstration of mobile microscopy.


Scientists at the UC Berkeley have developed a smartphone-based microscope technology to treat river blindness, a debilitating disease caused by parasitic worms. Scientists named this technology LoaScope.

Most people affected by river blindness is majorly found in Africa. The worm is transmitted to humans through bites of infected black flies. If it remains untreated, it can prompt visual deficiency. Muddling matters, the pharmaceutical to treat the disease, ivermectin, can be lethal when a patient additionally has high blood levels of another parasitic worm, called Loa loa.

Using the LoaScope to analyze the blood of volunteers from villages in Cameroon, doctors were able to successfully treat more than 15,000 patients with ivermectin without serious complications.

Study co-author, professor Daniel Fletcher, said, “This is not just a step forward for efforts to eliminate river blindness, but it is a demonstration that mobile microscopy — based on a mobile phone — can safely and effectively expand access to healthcare.”

“This work sets the stage for expanding the use of mobile microscopy to improve diagnosis and treatment of other diseases, both in low-resource areas and eventually back in the U.S.”

The technology turns the camera of a mobile phone or tablet computer into a high-quality light microscope. The technology has applications from infectious disease diagnosis to ocean microorganism surveys to eye disease detection diagnosis to classroom education.

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