Will this awarded design conquer malaria?

The Excelscope is a smart semi-automated device which can detect malaria infections in blood samples. Six IDE students won the James Dyson Award 2018 with their prototype.

The core of the system is a ‘hacked’ smartphone that functions as a microscope. Image processing software recognises infected cells, and about 100 microscope stills need to be inspected for a valid diagnosis. The technology was developed by PhD candidate Tope Agbana in Professor Michael Verhaegen’s group at the 3mE Faculty. Dr Jan Carel Diehl from the Faculty of Industrial Design and Engineering supervised the students involved in developing the prototype.

The James Dyson Award encourages designers to become problem-solving inventors who ‘do more with less’. A malaria diagnostics system that does not require an expensive microscope and trained lab technicians would fit that profile perfectly. Jury member David Lemereis said “The Excelscope has the potential to contribute significantly to the alleviation or prevention of the suffering of millions of people.” His colleague Joris Cavelaars praised the combination of research and a practical approach.


Above left to right Linde de Jonge, Francesco De Fazio, Gerianne Boer. Below left to right Jan Sebastian van Ackeren, Krishna Thiruvengadam Rajagopal, Julieta Bolanos.

Team member Gerianne Boer said the team didn’t really expect to win and was pleasantly surprised last week Monday when they received the news. She hopes the award will attract investors for the project. Additional software development is needed for image focus and for the processing (which now runs on a PC instead of a smartphone).

Boer: “We now have one prototype, but you’d need a hundred of them for field tests in Africa. ‘If we carried out these field tests, we would have to be accompanied by health care workers on the ground to gain the trust of the local people’. There is still a long way to go in developing this system, but it all starts with investors.”

The malaria diagnosis tool is a long-running project at 3mE under the name Optical Smart Malaria Diagnostics and it has won multiple awards.

The Excelscope was added to the list of 22 national winners.  James Dyson himself will select the international winner from a shortlist by mid-October.

The Excelscope prototype (Photo: James Dyson Award)
Science editor Jos Wassink

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