SEP 10, 2020 7:00 AM PDT

Microscope to Diagnose River Blindness Is a Winner

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez


A team of innovators from Stanford University has invented the Onchoscope: a low-cost, customizable microscope for the diagnosis of Onchocerciasis, a condition commonly known as “river blindness”. The team has come first place and received the Steven H. Krosnick Prize (along with a $20,000 pay-out) in a competition that recognizes technologies that provide simple, cost-effective solutions to complex global health challenges.

River blindness is a parasitic disease that affects over 20 million people around the world, caused by infection with the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus, which is transmitted to humans via a bite from the river-dwelling black fly. Symptoms begin with itchiness and bumps under the skin, eventually leading to a complete loss of vision in those affected. The World Health Organization, or WHO, lists river blindness as a neglected tropical disease, for which there is currently no vaccine.

Accurate diagnosis remains the weakest link to tackling the disease, particularly in developing countries. A pharmaceutical therapy is currently available, and with early interventions, a tool like the Onchoscope has the potential to help prevent infection-related blindness in millions. Currently, biopsies of the skin are the standard practice for diagnosing infections. Not only are these procedures invasive, but they also have an alarmingly high false-negative rate, in excess of 40 percent.

The Onchoscope works by shining a blue light to image the capillary bed, which creates enough contrast to spot parasitic microfilariae (or early-stage larvae) within the blood vessels under the fingernails. The device can not only image these capillaries but also counts and tracks the number of microfilariae in the bloodstream, giving a more sensitive and accurate diagnosis than the current standards of care.

 

Sources: Newswise, Venture Well.


 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
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