Students Come Up With A Life-Saving Smartphone App That Can Detect Malaria

A group of graduate students from around the United States have come up with a life-saving application that will enable healthcare workers located in remote areas all over the world to instantly diagnose malaria.

The app is one of the entries in Microsoft's 9th annual Imagine Cup, which is a competition open to students with regards to using technology in order to solve some of the world's toughest challenges. The 2010 Finals were hosted in Poland and this year's competition will be held on July in New York City with the theme: "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems."

And solve these problems the malaria detection app can. Tristan Gibeau, the project's team leader and a graduate computer engineering student at the University of Central Florida, says of their app: "It's going to make a difference in trying to contain the outbreak of malaria. In the big picture, it'll hopefully help in the fight against most diseases out there."

The team's prototype is comprised of a Samsung Focus smart phone that is running on Windows 7. A microscopic camera lens was fitted to the phone to take detailed shots of blood samples. The team then developed a program that is capable of analyzing the phots taken by detecting for the presence of any malaria parasites, quantifying how much of the parasites are in the sample, and then indicate where they are to the user.

Image from World Health Organization.Image from World Health Organization.

Malaria is a disease that is especially widespread in tropical and subtropical regions and causes coma and even death in severe cases. According to the World Health Organization, over 781,000 people die of the disease every year. Of these cases, 90% of deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, a povery-ridden region where these deaths might have been prevented or lessened had there been adequate healthcare services and hospitals in the area.

With regards to the app, Gibeau adds that it can be used to make a diagnosis even in areas without internet access because the processing and analysis takes place in the phone itself. He is also planning to develop on other smart phone applications that will be able to detect sickle cell and other diseases in the future. For now, his priority as well as his team's is to go to the finals of the Imagine Cup and win the it with their life-saving app.

Sources: Reuters; World Health Organization