With Lifelens, you can use a smartphone to give a blood test.  Let that sink in for a minute.

Developed by students from four different American universities, LifeLens’ primary goal is to eradicate Malaria in the developing world. One of the main challenges facing aid workers is that it by the time a blood sample has reached a distant doctor for a Malaria test, environmental factors have contaminated the blood, leading to a shocking 60% error rate in diagnoses. As a result, the medicine is wasted on people who don’t need it, and isn’t given to patients who do. 

The solution, according to Team Lifelens, is to give aid workers in the field the ability to perform blood tests themselves. With the LifeLens app and a tiny lens attachment, an aid worker with very little training could perform a finger prick blood sample, and take a picture of the blood cells at 350x zoom.  The app then utilizes edge detection to count the cells in the image, and identify any discolored cells that would suggest the presence of Malaria, ultimately resulting in an immediate diagnosis. The most amazing part: the team claims to have achieved a stunning 94.4% level of accuracy. If that weren’t enough, a Lifelens diagnosis and treatment costs an average of only $0.56, vs. $3.40 using current methods. 

All of the image processing takes place locally on the phone, eliminating the necessity of a data connection and making it ideal for rural areas. When cell service is available, the app can send diagnosis data to the cloud, allowing doctors to map case prevalence and severity in the surrounding area (these guys should really work with Team OneBuzz). 

Though the application is specifically targeted at malaria diagnosis, the possibilities extend so much further. I mean, they turned a phone into a powerful microscope; it’s absurd. The team mentioned that they’re already working on sickle cell detection, and I could definitely see this becoming a low-cost option for school science classes that can’t afford microscopes for the class. Currently though, the team is marketing the device to governments to deploy where it is needed most. 

Based on what I’ve seen so far at this year’s Imagine Cup, it looks like Malaria may have met its match.

UPDATE: Lifelens won third place in the Windows Phone 7 competition.