The world of medicine has relied on blood sample analysis for over 200 years to diagnose serious illness, but what if that analysis could be done on a smartphone? The YC Hacks Contest last month, Tanay Tandom presented Athelas, a blood imaging application that only requires a small 1mm ball lens to “implement computer vision to algorithmically count and identify cells in the bloodstream to automatically diagnose disease/conditions”. Tandom, who is still at high school, hopes to utilise Athelas as a method of diagnosing Maleria which would save millions of lives each year. According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 3.4 billion people are at risk of contracting malaria, with 207 million diagnosed and 627000 dying just last year. Children are especially vulnerable to the parasite spread disease, with hundreds of thousands succumbing to the illness every year. Currently, diagnosing Malaria and many other diseases requires substantial time and expertise.

“The process has hardly changed from its long, expensive form for 150 years: go to the doctor, get a large sample taken, wait for a couple days for a trained professional to analyze the blood, and then receive your report. Athelas changes all that,” claims Tandom.

The ambitious and innovative idea and would have enormous implications for third world countries that are struggling to contain the spread of malaria. Tandom’s big thinking is not met without opposition though, with Dr. Amar Safdar, director of transplant medical diseases at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, stating in an interview to the BBC that “this app will create more confusion then alleviate anxiety, the major limitation for this approach is that most viruses require electron microscopic exams to see them.”

The challenges faced by Tandom and the YC think tank in preparing this concept for use in the real world seem arduous, but no doubt the rewards will be worth it. “The product can benefit those in rural and suburban areas alike by providing faster and cheaper alternatives to existing diagnostic procedures. In rural areas, the tech will really shine – providing previously unavailable diagnostic skills through the power of artificial intelligence and computer vision”, finished Tandom in his presentation on the YC Challenge Post website.