Teen Uses Smartphone Attachment for Malaria Testing

xlargeTanay Tandon, a 17-year-old entrepreneur, has developed a smartphone attachment and accompanying app that could revolutionise malaria testing and simplify the process for millions of people across the world.

The project, Athelas, was built as part of Y Combinators Hackathon, which it went on to win. It uses a low-cost lens attachment to the smartphone camera that images blood at high magnification, and then uses computer vision to algorithmically count and indentify the blood cells, automatically diagnosing diseases and conditions.

Cell morphology, or the practice of viewing and analysing a persons blood to diagnose conditions, has been a primary approach in diagnostic medicine for more than two centuries. While Athelas initially focuses on malaria, additional development could well lead to similar solutions for chronic diseases, cancers and parasites.

Through predictive cell counting, Athelas can mimic a process thats normally conducted in laboratories in rural and suburban areas, providing faster and cheaper alternatives to existing practices.

In an interview with The Next Web, Tandon said that while the system currently doesnt match lab-based testings accuracy, they hope to reach that level within a few months. “For live blood samples (blood smear images taken directly from the smartphone camera attachment) the accuracy is currently in the range of 0.7 – 0.75,” said Tandon. “This drop is due to the lower resolution and blurred images from the microscope. Over the next few months, the main goal is to incorporate some sort of low-cost staining procedure, as well as multi-fusion image stitching algorithms to boost these numbers to more accurate ranges, comparable to the 0.9-0.95 from training data.”

Tandon plans on building a viable, low-cost version of Athelas for deployment in rural areas, focusing on a few sets of diseases including malaria and blood-borne pathogens, then commercialising the project with hospitals and related medical providers.