A mobile phone app has been developed that can diagnose tuberculosis in a span of a few minutes. It could revolutionize the treatment of the disease in the world’s poorest countries.
Computer scientists at Anglia Ruskin University and Universiti Putra in Malaysia have designed a mobile phone testing system which has almost 98 percent accuracy rate in diagnosing the fatal lung disease in time.
Tuberculosis is the world’s leading infectious disease and the majority of deaths as a result of the disease are in low-income countries where health-care workers have poor access to testing and treatment facilities.
The research team engineered a system which allows doctors or other health workers to detect TB, specific antibodies present in a patient’s sputum. The patient provides a sample of sputum which is then placed onto a tiny biosensor device which produces a color, depending on whether the outcome is positive or negative for TB.
A smartphone’s camera then uses an app to analyze the color and deliver a diagnosis within a few seconds.
Director of the Anglia Ruskin IT Research Institute, Alamgir Hossain said analysis of the color samples with the naked eye alone was extremely difficult.
“By using the phone’s camera to capture the sample, rather than manually using color charts, it eliminates human error and avoids any subjectivity around interpretation. It also means that positive and negative samples do not need to be distinguishable to the human eye or depend on perfect color vision,” said Professor Hossain.
“This system wouldn’t be used instead of seeing a physician but would be a first port of call. If the app detects tuberculosis it would instruct the user to contact a medical professional,” he further added.
“The hope is to eventually add in DNA sequencing to enable the diagnosis to be more robust,” said Professor Hossain.
“If you add in the DNA sequencing on top of the biosensor the overall framework for the diagnosis will be much better and doctors will be able to consider this as a primary diagnosis. Many remote areas have limited testing facilities so if you can develop a mobile system it will really help,” he said.
The health workers will need to purchase a small biosensor along with a smartphone which has been specifically developed by Universiti Putra. The system works offline thus can be used in areas without electricity or an internet connection.
Scientists believe that the total cost for the system which includes downloading the app and purchasing the biosensor could be as little as £2 to £3, depending on funding and uptake.
It is hoped that the diagnostic test will be ready to initiate within two years.