Revolutionary smartphone app uses light to diagnose malaria

A smartphone app with a revolutionary technique to diagnose malaria has been launched in Uganda.

Matibabu is an app for Windows Phone that works with a custom piece of hardware called a Matiscope. The Matiscope is a finger clamp with a built-in infrared light source and sensor that attaches to the phone.

Matibabu team member Josiah Kavuma explained: “The idea basically works with red light. Light is triggered into the skin to reach the red blood cells. Light is used to determine the state of the red blood cells to determine one’s malaria status.”

The test takes less than two minutes and the results are stored in the user’s Microsoft Skydrive account so they can share them with their doctor.

Matibabu – which takes its name from the Swahili word for medical clinic – represents a significant improvement in testing for malaria.

Ordinarily, malaria needs to be diagnosed by drawing and testing blood, which is not only painful but represents a significant expense for medical organisations.

The disease is particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90% of all malaria-related deaths occur, but medical coverage in the region is by no means comprehensive.

Matibabu is designed to provide a more affordable and accessible testing option with no pain involved, and the team believe it has the potential to reduce the socio-economic costs of malaria for 300 – 500 million people.

Early diagnosis would help to improve treatment, meaning the technology could have a significant role to play in the fight against malaria.

“Our vision is to see the solution being used all over the world to detect malaria cases early,” said Kavuma. “Hence early treatment will save many lives and many unborn babies as many mothers have had miscarriages because of malaria during pregnancy.”

The diagnosis technology was invented after Brian Gitta, a malaria sufferer and computer science student at Uganda’s Makerere University, decided to develop a better way to detect malaria.

“I hated the needles and kept thinking of ways people could be diagnosed without pain,” Gitta explained.

He teamed up with friends and fellow students Joshua Businge, Josiah Kavuma and Simon Lubambo, and together they developed the Matibabu.

Although not yet in mass production, the Matibabu has already attracted considerable attention. The team has won the Microsoft Innovation Cup and a USAID contest for innovations to help developing countries, and recently showcased the prototype at MakeTechX in Berlin, Germany.

Image courtesy of Sergio Sanchez.

Video via Matibabu’s blog.

3D Printed Human Tissue Just Got Closer to Reality

Scientists have moved a step closer to creating fully-functioning replacement tissue at the push of a button with the development of a remarkable new bioprinting method.

Developed at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the bioprinting method involves the creation of 3D tissue constructs made up of different interconnected cell types and blood vessels. This represents a major milestone in the creation of artificial tissue.

This is the first time that tissue constructs of this complexity have been produced. Previous attempts to create lab-grown tissue have been limited to very thin slices because scientists have been unable to develop a system to supply the interior cells with oxygen and nutrients or remove carbon dioxide.

The team behind the project, lead by core faculty member Dr Jennifer Lewis, created a custom 3D printer that can print multiple materials together with a very high degree of accuracy. They also created “bio-inks”, which contain key ingredients found in living tissues, and printed these to create the tissue construct.

Although the results are still in their early stages – the team still have work to do to turn the printed blood vessel lining cells into fully-working blood cells – the potential for this technology is significant.

Bioprinting: Building in Blood Vessels from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.

Writing in a release the Wyss Institute website, the Institute said that the development “represents an early but important step toward building fully functional replacements for injured or diseased tissue that can be designed from CAT scan data using computer-aided design (CAD), printed in 3D at the push of a button and used by surgeons to repair or replace damaged tissue.”

Dr Lewis agreed, saying: “This is the foundational step toward creating 3D living tissue.”

In the shorter term, the technology has the potential to be used to assess the safety of medicines, which is what Dr Lewis and her team are now focusing on. “That’s where the immediate potential for impact is,” she explained.

Bioprinting: Building with Bio-Inks from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.

Once the 3D tissue is developed sufficiently it could be used in drug development to establish possible side effects and measure the effectiveness of drug candidates. This could prove revolutionary for the pharmaceutical industry, and is something that many people have seen as a holy grail for drug development – it could reduce the time it takes to bring medicines to market and reduce or even remove the reliance on animal testing.

It could prove invaluable for scientist studying living tissue and how it heals, grows and forms tumours. “Tissue engineers have been waiting for a method like this,” said Wyss Institute founding director Dr Don Ingber.

The Wyss Institute is known for its innovations in biomimetics – the practice of taking inspiration from nature for scientific design – and has previously produced artificial jellyfish, the lung-on-a-chip and swarms of robotic insects.

Image courtesy of the Wyss Institute.