An application that can detect the cancer causing toxins, aflatoxins, and with accuracy levels as high as the lab tests is the new breakthrough in taming toxins responsible for numerous deaths in Kenya with its affordability being its unique selling point.
Already field trials of the technology have been carried out in East Africa in collaboration with several regional research universities and research institutions, and with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Lab-on-Mobile-Device (LMD) developed by Donald Cooper of the University of Colorado, United States, who co-founded a company called Mobile Assay to develop the technology is also billed as key in building a ‘big data’ set to assist research on outbreaks.
Initiatives to tame the spread of the killer toxins have proven hard especially due to the challenges of transporting samples to laboratories which are limited and the exorbitant charges, A single test goes for approximately Sh1280.
As a result, local regulatory agencies widely use cheaper immunoassay tests, which operate in a similar way to over-the-counter pregnancy tests, for on-location screening. But these can only indicate a positive or negative result via a colour change on test strips or in liquid substrates and so are unable to indicate the level of health threat. However researchers say this type of testing is low quality and are prone to human error as some require precise timing and because low concentrations of aflatoxin might not trigger an obvious coloured response. LMD on the other hand reduces the human error risk by analysing the shades of the coloured bands on test strips through a digital phone image.
After users photograph the test strip with the smartphone, the app then calculates the pixel density of the coloured band. The result shows how much aflatoxin is present, within a certain thresh-old, rather than merely giving a simple positive or negative result. LMD is more sensitive than the human eye, boosting the accuracy of traditional immunoassay tests by a factor of 100, according to Cooper. Data from the tests will also be automatically uploaded online to create real-time, open-access maps of aflatoxin outbreaks for research.
Aflatoxin has been identified by government and agricultural bodies as one of the biggest threats to food security in Africa. According to the Good and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, aflatoxins affects a quarter of food crops worldwide with approximately five billion people in the developing world being likely to be exposed to aflatoxins.
In Kenya the toxins destroy up to 40 percent of Kenya’s annual grain production and been have been responsible for hundreds of deaths from unsuspecting people after eating highly contaminated maize.
a deadly outbreak of aflatoxicosis in 2004-05,left approximately 125 people in eastern Kenya who consumed contaminated grain dead.