Friday, May 13, 2011

Smart Phones For Global Health!

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has recently created a new set of $100,000 grants to fund mobile phone applications that will improve global health. The intention is to turn smart phones into superphones “that are part doctor, part secretary, part Orkin man.”

This is the newest of the Gates’ Grand Challenge Exploration, which gives grants to early stage research focused on urgent global health problems. The researchers have come up with some amazing ideas for treatment that scan medical records, detect malaria, monitor neonatal brain injuries and even recharge phones using dirt!

There are three distinct projects that use mobile phones to treat malaria. Teams from various universities such as Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and Glasgow University as well as Boston’s Beth Israel Medical Center are running tests to determine whether a mobile phone could be used to detect the disease. The Israeli run project uses a smart phone camera equipped with a polarized laser pointer to create images of hemozoin crystals in fingertip blood. Simultaneously, Scottish and American scientists are testing the potential of having a smart phone detect red blood cells infected by malaria parasites.

Research is also being conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital to develop a near infrared camera attachment for mobile phones that can monitor brain injury in neonatals. It would be a low cost accessory that does not require stationary equipment and thus could save newborns in isolated areas from permanent brain damage.

Another innovative invention being pursued is a instant scanning system of health records for mobile phones. The health care professional could simply scan medical records and paperwork with the smartphone during treatment and send it to a centralized database for other medical specialists to review. This could reduce health costs and improve care greatly.

Harvard’s Erez Liberman Aiden is leading another project which is developing a low-cost microbial fuel cell to recharge mobile phones in Africa using dirt! It is believed that the free electrons that naturally occur in dirt could potentially power the phone, allowing rural communities without electricity to use their phones.

--Gabrielle Gurian