THE LIFELENS PROJECT: Smartphone App Diagnoses Malaria from Drop of Blood
One of the primary reasons Dante’s Soma exists is to address how technology impacts our lives. That impact is different for just about every demographic, culture or geography — it’s not one size fits all. We use Smartphone apps today for a host of entertainment – hurling birds through the air to hit pigs, capturing music we hear floating out of a radio, photographic enhancement, you name it. There is an app for just about everything these days.
At a recent mobile development summit I hosted, I asked a few people how many apps they had on their Smartphones – the answers varied – from 20 to 100. I refined my question, how many apps do you use regularly? The answer became more homogoneous – three to five a day with the majority being social, entertainment or productivity related, and these were mobile developers.
So, pushing beyond the social and entertainment apps we consume on a daily basis causing us to slide farther towards Aldous Huxley’s prediction that we would amuse our selves to death, along comes the Lifelens Project. Lifelens has created innovative point-of-care smartphone application that addresses child mortality rates caused by the lack of detection and availability of treatment for malaria.
The current state-of-the-art rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) deployed throughout sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world only have around a 40% rate of accuracy. The Lifelens’ Smartphone app has been more than 94% accurate in the tests they have run.
The Lifelens Smartphone app is simple. Take a drop of blood from a patient and put it on a slide with a marker, a dye that only the malarial parasite can absorb. Then, take an image of that slide with the Smartphone equipped with a tiny lens giving 350 times magnification and you can see the blood cells at the cellular level. With the image captured in the Smartphone you can take a cell count using a detection algorithm that identifies different artifacts in the image that identifies red blood cells and from there, you can identify the malaria within those red blood cells. Once the Lifelens’ app identifies the cells, data can be pushed to the web including the GPS coordinates of that case which allow healthcare works or scientists to see trends as well as where malaria outbreaks are occurring. There is also a web portal feature that can put all of the information they have on cases and lay over a mobile map giving a universal snapshot of where malaria is clustered globally.
According to Jason Wakizaka, one of the team members and founders who formulates the user engagement strategy and interface design for the Lifelens project, you can be out in the field with no network connection, but you can still make an accurate diagnosis of malaria. When you return to a place where there is internet, you can then push all that data which is stored on the device to the internet into the cloud and it will show up on the case map.
Lifelens says child mortality rates remain unacceptably high in an era of modern medicine. About 29,000 children under the age of five die every day, mainly from preventable causes. This equates to nearly 21 deaths per minute. With a mortality of 15–20%, there are over one million deaths per year due to malaria, 85% of fatalities occurring with children under five years of age.
The Lifelens Project and their team of five innovative graduate student-founders from cross academic discliplines (a medical scientist, business manager, software engineer, user interface designer and business strategy & performance guru from UBS), want to directly address and reduce malaria child mortality rates around the world with the Lifelens’ mobile diagnostic solution. More importantly, the app can be used by anyone who can operate a basic cell phone, which according to Lifelens, opens up the possibilities of shipping devices directly to affected areas because no special training or language skills are necessary for the operation of the device. This app has a purpose and will hopefully affect the lives of thousands of children living under the threat of disease that has no cure.
You can follow another one of the Lifelens founders, Wilson To, in his“adventures of a graduate student trying to change the world” blogGamechanging.