LifeLens application has success in its blood

A UCF graduate, along with a team of students, decided to come up with a new use for his smart phone: a virtual microscope.

After developing an application to detect malaria from a digital snapshot, Team LifeLens placed third at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2011 on July 13, a worldwide competition that gives students a chance to demonstrate a truly unique piece of technology that will change the world.

Tristan Gibeau, a recent graduate of UCF, is one of Team LifeLens’ members. He described the process of diagnosing patients on the fly.

“You draw some blood from someone and then you put it on a slide and then we apply a dye and if there are some malaria parasites, they will actually adhere to the dye and give a pigmentation to it. If there aren’t any parasites, nothing will happen,” Gibeau said.

Using images and samples provided by different labs, the program has proved to be 94.4 percent accurate so far.

Team LifeLens is composed of five enterprising individuals from the four corners of the U.S. In addition to Gibeau, Cy Khormaee from the Harvard School of Business, Wilson To from the University of California at Davis, Jason Wakizaka from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and University of California at San Diego graduate Helena Xu all contributed to the cause.

Khormaee has requested leave of school for the following year to focus on the venture.

“So I’ve officially notified Harvard and will be taking a leave of absence for the next year [or two],” he said. “My family does know and has been incredibly supportive of the decision.”

The team won $3,000 during the world finals in New York, and now they are going to apply for the $3 million grant to be unveiled by Microsoft over the course of the next three years.

Tara Walker acted as the team’s Academic Development Evangelist liaison, representing Microsoft. She mentioned this year is also the first time the grant is being offered.

“The $3 million is for teams that compete that demonstrate a truly exemplary grasp of the technology they’ve contributed to finding global solutions, so they may really shape and change the world,” Walker said.

Out of the 10 different categories within the competition, Korea’s Team, HOMERUN, took first place in the Windows 7 category with their application named Peekaboo, a game that enables family members to communicate, while searching for treasure.

Gibeau said one of the reasons LifeLens may not have reached the top two spots is the effect the application has on consumers.

The ultimate goal is for consumers to be able to hold the phone over a sample and have the lens actively scan the area for parasites on a microscopic scale. Now the only thing keeping LifeLens from being distributed is the issue of incompatible hardware.

The team hopes to finalize the application within the next few months and ultimately be able to send it overseas. Gibeau said the current operating system for the phone will only capture photos of the samples suspected to be riddled with malaria; then the application analyzes the photo.

“When it comes to software, [LifeLens] not only helps solve world problems, but it can be adapted to the future as the software evolves,” Gibeau said. “We’re using it as a stepping stone, by detecting malaria, and then the next step would be to see if it’ll be able to work on sickle cell.”

As soon as someone builds a phone with a camera capable of actively scanning these samples, the device can be taken out of the lab and be put to the test in the field.

“There are over one billion [people] at risk for malaria — many of whom cannot afford to be tested. LifeLens provides a unique opportunity to scale up malaria testing to provide access to the entire world,” Khormaee said.

After their presentation at the worldwide finals, Team LifeLens has been invited to the National Summit on Africa to provide a demonstration to The Africa Society and lend their knowledge of this technology to others on an international scale.

“Two guys in Poland actually started up a company right after the competition, and now it’s viable in Russia,” Walker said.

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