Could you text me your blood sample?

 00:02 22 July 2009 by Colin Barras

In the developed world, we take camera phones for granted as ways to record our lives – but in poorer countries they could be used to save lives, say bioengineers. The US team has designed a portable microscope that straps to a camera phone and can be used to diagnose potentially fatal diseases in blood and sputum samples. Light microscopy is an essential healthcare tool that can help to diagnose dangerous diseases including malaria and tuberculosis. If necessary, digital images of cell samples provided by camera-equipped lab microscopes are shuttled through the internet to experts at other healthcare centres for further analysis. But these technologies are often unavailable to those in remote regions or the developing world – although life-threatening diseases are often endemic in these places, says Daniel Fletcher at the University of California in Berkeley. Cheap and fast His team, working with colleagues at the University of California in San Francisco, wondered whether the technology that does exist in the developing world could be harnessed for medical purposes. A recent UN report estimated cellphones are now used by 60 per cent of the world's population, and cellphone networks are extensive even in the developing world. Such networks, the team realized, offer a cheap and fast way to wirelessly transmit medical data from the field to healthcare centers. Furthermore, in 2007, John Frean at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Sandringham, South Africa, showed that the cameras integrated into many cellphones can capture relatively good quality images of tissue samples simply by holding them against the eyepiece of a light microscope. Strap-on scope Fletcher's team decided to go a step further by developing an integrated cellphone microscopy system. They used off-the-shelf parts to design a cheap and portable microscope attachment that straps to a Nokia N73 cameraphone (see image).

David Becker at University College London in the UK thinks the new system is a "simple yet elegant solution"." If the image is coupled with the patient's details and location.0006320) . He adds. and the team says that images of malaria-infected blood captured with the cameraphone are potentially good enough to diagnose the disease. but the researchers also added a battery-powered LED lamp and a series of filters to allow the device to function as a fluorescent microscope as well. that the system would benefit from higher quality parts to improve the results." Fletcher says. Journal reference: Public Library of Science One (DOI: 10.1371/journal. Ambient light is enough for clear imaging of medical samples. he says. "Additional things could include annotating an image to point out a problem or a question to be answered by a doctor at a central hospital. though. and transmission of images via cellphone or the internet should indeed be pursued and made more accessible.pone. "Cell counting is the main thing we have done. while fluorescent images of a stained sputum smear were sufficient to identify the presence of tuberculosis. Cellphone counting The researchers could even take advantage of the cameraphone's computing power to begin post-processing of the images. Nevertheless." he says. Frean thinks the efforts to make diagnostic tools cheaper and accessible are "commendable". the microscope can pick out objects just 1." he says. the system could also help track the spread of a disease through the population. "Cheap digital photography tailored to microscope applications. The system could also diagnose sickle-cell anaemia from blood samples.2 micrometers across – red blood cells are typically 6 to 8 micrometers across."To keep the cost down we went with lenses that aren't corrected for many aberrations. He says that different coloured LEDs could be added to expand the range of cells that can be imaged. as long as workers are trained to use the devices properly. Malaria parasites are visible in blood smears viewed under a microscope. The team tested the device against a range of common diseases and conditions.

visit the GM Organisms Topic Guide An outdoor trial of mosquitoes genetically engineered to sabotage Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. dengue has reappeared in the US for the first time in 65 years. The MCRU conducted the trial with Oxitec." says Angela Harris of the Mosquito Control and Research Unit on the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman. adding that the disease poses a threat to 40 per cent of the world's population. that bred the GM mosquitoes. which spread the dengue virus. the company in Oxford. "The range of options really is extremely limited.Genetically altered mosquitoes thwart dengue spreaders   18:27 11 November 2010 by Andy Coghlan For similar stories. The trial is first time genetically modified mosquitoes have been released in the wild." says Alphey. By the end of the six-month trial on a 16-hectare plot.000. a disease that infects 50 million people annually and kills 25. the chief scientist and founder of Oxitec. has been declared a success by scientists in the field. The only control measures are therefore to kill the mosquitoes with insecticides or monitor and restrict the small pools of water. "It's a proof of principle. that it works. where the trial took place. . UK. Combating disease The only current method of combating dengue is to kill and control the mosquitoes that pick up and spread the virus when they feed on blood from infected individuals. no preventative drugs as there are with malaria." says Luke Alphey. and in southern Europe. populations of the native insects. saucers and receptacles where they breed. had plummeted. which spread dengue fever. and no therapeutic drugs. In the past year. The strategy promises to provide a new weapon against dengue. "There's no vaccine.

" says Harris. and has approval to conduct contained trials in many other dengue-affected countries. so no one gets sick. Live trials Oxitec has already conducted indoor trials in Malaysia. breaking the insects' life cycle. Thailand. Singapore and Vietnam. Harris and her colleagues have been monitoring the site to see how long it takes for the population to recover. and where in order to effectively suppress natural populations. the proportion of pots containing at least one egg gradually rose. preventing them from growing properly and causing them to die before adulthood. A total of 3. India.3 million were released. France.000. . The resources consumed by the doomed larvae and pupae before they die vie with normal rivals for resources. for how long. The lethal gene overcommits the gene-reading machinery of larva and pupae. including Brazil. which helps to reduce the population. the researchers released males in batches of 50. They hope to establish how many males need to be released. The researchers conclude that the number of females laying eggs nosedived because most were dying as larvae. Oxitec now plans to use the GM males in conjunction with normal control methods to combat the mosquitoes. "Males don't bite.Oxitec breeds millions of males carrying an altered gene called tTA which they pass down when they mate with females. Egg patrol The researchers measured depletion of the population through weekly checks on eggs laid by the females in jam-jar-sized pots that were randomly dispersed throughout the trial plot. For the first three months or so. the US. reaching a peak of more than 60 per cent but by the end of the experiment the proportion had fallen to 10 per cent. Since the trial ended a month ago. In the six months of the trial. Alphey says that the Cayman trial was intended purely to prove that the strategy works.

" says Bob Swanepoel. . On Sunday South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced that the victims were infected by an arenavirus. Projects are also under way to develop GM mosquitoes to combat the spread of malaria. The nurse who tended the paramedic is also in a serious condition. In Australia. "They are very widespread. one of a family of viruses carried by rodents. arenaviruses are carried.Alphey say he is confident he can convince even those who are generally sceptical of genetic modification to support the strategy as a mean of saving lives and preventing sickness. A 36-year-old woman on a small farm outside the Zambian capital Lusaka developed flu-like symptoms in early September. In Africa. where she died. Haemorrhagic virus carried by common African mouse  18:00 13 October 2008 by Debora MacKenzie Three people have died and another is seriously ill with a previously unknown strain of a virus carried by a common African rodent. Alarms were raised after the ambulance paramedic and the nurse who attended her also died after developing similar symptoms two weeks later. researchers are planning a different approach against dengue. using GM mosquitoes carrying bacteria that sabotage breeding success. The virus requires close contact to spread. He argues that the GM mosquitoes will not spiral out of control in the environment because their offspring do not live long enough to reproduce. but experts warn that more like it could be circulating. former head of the NICD and one of the world's leading experts on haemorrhagic viruses. When they worsened she was taken by air ambulance to South Africa.

" says Swanepoel. to see how it is related to other arenaviruses. Several related viruses in the Americas cause haemorrhagic fevers. "It's shocking how little we know about the viruses that are circulating in Africa. which kills around 5000 people a year in West Africa. a common farm pest sold in Europe as a "pocket pet". "Or it may always have been out there and we're only recognising it now." says Swanepoel." The Zambian virus is being sequenced at the US Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. "Now suddenly there's this. "We have been testing haemorrhagic fever patients in southern Africa for three decades and we never found an arenavirus. This strain may be a new mutant. but in Africa only one was known to cause disease: Lassa fever." . Some of these viruses commonly infect humans.with no symptoms. The rest seemed benign. by the multimammate mouse. It is not known whether animals caught in Africa are being sold as pets. meaning the Zambian case may herald the start of a new disease.