The London-based startup xRapid has developed a mobile health solution that provide automatic diagnosis of malaria through a smartphone app. The camera on the phone, connected to the microscope, take a picture of the sample, and the app uses an algorithm to detect the presence of malaria parasites in red blood cells. The startup has led several clinical studies and trials in different countries in order to assess the performance of the app, and results have shown the test to be 98.2% accurate, with a sensitivity of 100% and specificity of 95% on all five types of Plasmodium that cause malaria.
The innovative diagnostic platform includes an iPhone, the xRapid mobile app and either a compound or field microscope. The test equipment and technology is portable and can cope with harsh climates and hot temperatures, making it suitable for healthcare professionals and aid workers in remote areas with limited resources. xRapid works as a pay-as-you-test service, and once the hardware is purchased, the users are able to top up their account with the amount of diagnostic tests they plan to use.
By using digital imaging technology and artificial intelligence, xRapid has developed an innovative platform that can diagnose malaria faster, cheaper and more accurately than conventional methods. It is much more accurate than Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs), and much faster than microscopy which is considered the gold standard for malaria diagnosis. And it is cheaper, faster and much easier to use than PCR, which is far from efficient in endemic regions. xRapid sidesteps the issues with currently available methods, and its portable nature mean it can be stored and taken anywhere, and require very little training, which is crucial in rural and low-resource settings.
Although the pay-as-you-go business model seem unpractical in regions where the burden of malaria remain heavily concentrated, the technology could help address and reach the global targets set by the WHO. Half of the global population is at risk of malaria, and xRapid not only help improve the lives of those affected, but could also play a major role in preventative public health strategies. While there certainly are questions regarding protocol and use of smartphones near blood samples, the retention of information that smartphone technology allows makes for a powerful disease-mapping tool that can contribute towards predicting future outbreaks.
Earlier this year, xRapid was voted as the audience winner at the Pistoia Alliance’s Mini Start Up Challenge in London, an event designed to recognize innovative solutions to solving life science problems. They have also been selected as one of the finalists of the OBN Awards in the Best Implementation of Digital Healthcare, set to celebrate innovation and achievement in the UK life sciences. While the startup currently is solely focused on malaria, they also aim to use the technology to detect tuberculosis, gonorrhea and blood cancers.