By Simone Oyekan, Global Health Issue Analyst

These days cell phones are used for everything. From sending e-mails to creating powerpoint presentations and to conducting video calls. They have even replaced the home phone as the primary number of contact. But who would have thought that cell phones could be used to solve global problems? As part of a research project, some students from the University of California, Berkeley have created an innovative way to use the cell phone to provide solutions to various global health issues.

The students took a microscope and a Nokia N95 and put them together. They call it the ‘CellScope.’ With the lens attached, doctors are able to see and take photographs of blood cells, then images of cell samples are sent by MMS anywhere in the world for instant analysis. The device consists of fluorescent tagging molecules that attach themselves to the bacteria (specifically those used in identifying diseases), and then the CellScope can be used to detect the presence of disease in individuals. The snap-on microscope also includes a holder for glass slides that can be used to obtain blood samples. New technologies like these make possibilities endless for medical professionals and portable clinics who want to offer healthcare anywhere in the world.

At first glance, this sounds like an excellent invention. This will undoubtedly help malaria diagnosis and treatment in developing countries. However, the anticipated impact of this invention may not be as fruitful as it seems. Medical professionals must obtain the CellScope, take pictures of thousands of individuals and then diagnose the results. For providers in war-torn economies or poverty-stricken countries who already find it hard to supply treated malaria nets, obtaining the CellScope may be even harder. After the CellScope diagnosis comes the treatment, which may prove to be extremely difficult given the existing global challenges of access to medicine. If reaching rural communities is difficult for health providers now, what difference will the CellScope actually make, especially when it appears that those who will have access to the CellScope are medical professionals from wealthier countries?

Regardless of its shortcomings, the CellScope does increase access to medical tools for medical professionals. It will aid in the speed at which people are diagnosed. Perhaps it can even mean more jobs for the stagnant economy as people will be needed to interpret the pictures at laboratories across the world. Or perhaps image analysis software will be added as an application on the phone. Either way, the CellScope definitely adds to the global health arena.

One of the research students, Aydogan Ozcan, has just received a $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to test a low-cost, compact cell phone to diagnose malaria. Thus, the possibilities are endless for the improvement of the CellScope.


Handspreca Mobile

Malaria No More – Malaria Policy Center

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation