Enlisting mHealth in the Fight Against River Blindness

CellScope Loa

When it comes to devising new ways to provide state-of-the art medical care to people living in remote areas of the world, smartphones truly are helping scientists get smarter. For example, an NIH-supported team working in Central Africa recently turned an iPhone into a low-cost video microscope capable of quickly testing to see if people infected with a parasitic worm called Loa loa can safely receive a drug intended to protect them from a different, potentially blinding parasitic disease.

As shown in the video above, the iPhone’s camera scans a drop of a person’s blood for the movement of L. loa worms. Customized software then processes the motion to count the worms (see the dark circles) in the blood sample and arrive at an estimate of the body’s total worm load. The higher the worm load, the greater the risk of developing serious side effects from a drug treatment for river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis.

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Mobile Health: Figuring Out What Works

This week, I was excited to join some of the world’s top experts on technology and health at the 2012 mHealth Summit. It’s a booming field, with a recent Pew survey finding 11% of cell phone users and 19% of smart phone users now have at least one health app on their mobile devices.

Among the hot topics at this year’s Summit was the need for rigorous research to determine which of these apps actually serve to improve health—and which don’t! To learn more, check out this video featuring NIH-supported researcher Charlene Quinn.

Dr. Quinn’s work focuses on mHealth approaches aimed at managing diabetes, but her message is relevant to all of us who’d like to use our smart phones, iPads, and other mobile devices to improve our health.