PathVis: A Smartphone-Based Platform That Fights Cholera

(3BL Media/Justmeans) –In recent years, cholera has afflicted at least 770,000 Haitians, claiming over 9,200 lives. The Haitian epidemic alone resulted in an 85 percent increase in the number of cholera cases worldwide. It’s a disease that spreads through drinking water or food contaminated by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae; large epidemics often stem from water supplies contaminated by fecal matter. Yet, ironically, cholera is a preventable and easily treatable disease. But it presents a huge threat in developing countries—every year, there are between 1.3 and 4 million cases worldwide, resulting in up to 143,000 deaths. Sadly, nearly 1.8 billion people around the world drink water that can carry the cholera bacterium.

It’s an unpleasant disease, where the symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and cramping. In severe cases, dehydration and shock can take hold within hours and if left untreated, 25 to 50% of cases can be fatal. Urban centers lacking water and sanitation infrastructure are particularly susceptible. The rapid diffusion of the disease is tied to squalid conditions and insufficient health and sanitary infrastructure in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. In areas with poor sanitation and hygiene, diarrhea and vomiting can accelerate the spread of the disease because the waste—and the bacteria it carries—is harder to contain.

Now two female researchers, Jacqueline Linnes and Tamara Kinzer-Ursem have developed a smartphone-based platform to help detect disease pathogens before they spread. PathVis is a mobile tool that puts a lab in the palm of your hand. It can measure the level of a disease pathogen in environmental and patient samples and provide health organisations with real-time and locational data so they can efficiently target health resources to areas in need. The low-cost, breakthrough method uses a smartphone camera to help detect pathogens and can deliver highly accurate results in less than 30 minutes. The PathVis team is currently working with the Emerging Pathogens Institute to test water and identify cholera pathogens in Haiti.

PathVis was recently named the first-place winner of Vodafone Americas Foundation’s Wireless Innovation Project, (WIP) a competition to identify and fund the best innovations using wireless-related technology to address critical social issues. PathVis plans to use the $300,000 prize to further develop their technology. In the future, they will use the technology to detect pathogens from other infectious diseases as well.  

The past decade has seen rapid development and adoption of technologies that change the way we live, which gives us reasons for great optimism. There have been dramatic improvements in health and education including advances in life expectancy, child mortality, healthcare provision, among other important areas. The advent of wireless-related technology to help solve social issues, means these social ‘changemakers’ like PathVis can dramatically improve the human condition.

Photo Credit: PathVis